Quebec has no intention of revising its COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the health network starting in one month despite thousands of workers not being fully immunized.
Health Minister Christian Dubé said about 20,000 employees have still not received both doses of the vaccine — and risk suspension without pay.
“Now, of the 20,000 people who are unvaccinated, about half are in direct contact with patients,” he told reporters Thursday in Quebec City.
The province is standing firm on its goal for those workers to get their shots. Dubé urged those who haven’t rolled up their sleeves to do so before the Oct. 15 deadline.
When asked about the logistics, Dubé noted the province has the capacity to inoculate those who haven’t been vaccinated.
“Yes, it is possible. They can do it,” he said. “We can vaccinate 100,000 persons per day.”
But he has also asked regional health officials to prepare a contingency plan in the event vaccination targets aren’t met. Some workers could be assigned to administrative tasks from home, according to Dubé.
Last week, the government announced it will move forward with the controversial health order. The measure will apply to employees in the public and private sector — ranging from medical professionals to housekeeping and security staff.
The plan comes after the government held committee hearings in August on its proposed plan for health-care workers and as the province faces a fourth wave of the pandemic. At the time, Dubé said 30,000 employees in the health system were not fully vaccinated.
“So we got 10,000 people out of the 30,000 people who were not vaccinated in the past two weeks,” he said Thursday.
Read more: Quebec facing nursing staff shortage
When asked about the mandate, the province’s premier defended the decision to make immunization mandatory for health workers.
“Well, like I said, since the beginning that we have to make difficult decisions,” François Legault said.
Dubé said there are “other methods” when asked about a potential break in health services if there aren’t enough workers. He said he rather have a fully vaccinated orderly from an agency work in the system than have unvaccinated workers in contact with patients.
“It’s an alternative,” he said. “I do not like it, but I will never accept that a vulnerable patient is treated by an unvaccinated person.”
Amid a shortage of nurses, Dubé also said the government wants to attract at least 4,000 of them to work in the public network through various financial incentives, which have yet to be announced.
—with files from Global News’ Raquel Fletcher and The Canadian Press