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N.B. medical society backs mandatory vaccines for health workers

Click to play video: 'N.B. health authorities won’t commit to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for workers' N.B. health authorities won’t commit to mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for workers
The New Brunswick Medical Society is backing a national call to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health-care workers. But as Tim Roszell reports, the health authorities are non-committal. – Aug 5, 2021

The New Brunswick Medical Society (NBMS) is backing a national call to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health-care workers.

But the province’s health authorities remain non-committal.

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) issued a joint statement Tuesday saying vaccinations should be made mandatory for health-care workers because of ongoing concerns over COVID-19 variants and a stalled vaccination rate.

They say mandatory vaccinations would be “an additional measure” to protect patients and workers themselves.

“As health providers, we have a fundamental duty of care towards our patients and the public,” said CMA President Dr. Ann Collins. “There is significant evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and as health professionals who are leading the vaccination campaigns, it is the right call and an appropriate step.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Growing support for mandatory vaccination of B.C. health-care workers

NBMS President Dr. Jeff Steeves said it’s the right approach.

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He said education and time have proven effective in getting many people vaccinated. With plenty of vaccines available, along with the likelihood of needing to surpass an 80 per cent vaccination coverage for herd immunity, the vaccines “need to go somewhere.”

“We’ve always decided in the past people have the right to choose,” Steeves said. “But also, people have the right to go to the hospital and know that the people providing their care are not going to harm them.”

It’s not clear if Horizon Health Network and Vitalité Health Network will force the issue with staff. Both tell Global News that no final decisions have been made on mandatory vaccinations.

“At this time, we are continuing to strongly encourage our staff to get the vaccine and we fully expect our health care employees to be ambassadors for health and scientific advancements to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Erin Arsenault, Horizon Health Network’s acting chief human resource officer, in an email to Global News.

Steeves said health-care facilities should have some flexibility on what, if any, restrictions they choose to impose, rather than having a blanket policy from government.

York Care Centre’s  president and CEO, Tony Weeks, agrees.

The Fredericton long-term care home announced Tuesday it would make vaccinations mandatory for all new employees, under what it calls an interim policy.

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Weeks said the policy came together through discussions with staff, residents and their families.

“We’re just taking this to using the same logic we applied throughout the pandemic,” Weeks said. “What makes the most sense, what’s the right thing to do to protect everyone.”

READ MORE: COVID-19: Public has mixed reaction to N.B. move to green

Weeks admits more challenging discussions lie ahead, with policies for current staff and unvaccinated residents still to come, although he said his staff’s vaccination rate is at 94 per cent.

Steeves believes there are parallels between mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers and previous vaccinations required for travel to certain countries.

“When I traveled for the military in the past, you had to have a yellow fever vaccine,” Steeves said. “My dog has to have a distemper shot to go to America.”

“We have responsible safeguards in many places in society, so this is not that novel.”

In an email to Global News, Department of Social Development spokesman Robert Duguay said the department is working with facility owners and the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes to encourage workers to be vaccinated.

“At this time, mandatory vaccinations are not being considered,” Duguay said.

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The Department of Health did not respond to a request for comment by deadline.

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