Alberta scraps rule requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19

WATCH ABOVE: Health Minister Jason Copping and chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw provide an update on Alberta's COVID-19 situation on Tuesday.

A week after Global News reported the province was planning to scrap a requirement for Alberta Health Services workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19, Health Minister Jason Copping made the move official at a news conference on Tuesday afternoon.

“Today, I have directed AHS to rescind its immunization of workers for COVID-19 policy,” he said. “This change is in line with policies in other jurisdictions, including Manitoba and Quebec.

“When this immunization policy was implemented late last year, it was to protect patients, health-care workers and the public during a time of record transmission and an incredibly severe wave of Delta.”

READ MORE: Kenney wants to end vaccine mandate for health-care workers

The minister said the decision to lift the requirement comes as Alberta is in the “tail end” of the Omicron wave and that the province is in a “very different situation.” While Copping lifted the requirement, it was actually AHS that first brought in the policy last year.

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Copping added that his directive also applies to AHS’ subsidiaries, Covenant Health workers, midwives and others.

Copping was joined by chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw at the news conference on Tuesday.

Health-care workers in Alberta who are not vaccinated against the disease had been required to take part in regular rapid testing if they wanted to come to work. That requirement is also being lifted.

Unvaccinated AHS workers that are currently on a leave of absence will be allowed to return to work without getting a jab as of Thursday at 4 p.m., although Copping noted details of workers’ return would need to be worked out with their managers.

Copping noted that AHS will work to educate health-care workers about the importance of getting vaccinated and how effective and safe the vaccines are.

According to the provincial government, 97.7 per cent of full- and part-time employees at Alberta Health Services are already fully vaccinated and 99.8 per cent of physicians in the province are fully immunized as well.

“Health-care workers have an ethical and professional responsibility to protect others,” AHS said in an email to Global News. “Immunization is a very effective tool to assist in meeting this standard.

“We continue to recommend COVID-19 immunization to all of our workers as part of our overall approach to protect patients and one another.”

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The health authority added it is “extremely grateful to all of those workers who are now fully immunized.”

Click to play video: 'Alberta government orders AHS to end vaccine mandate for health-care workers'
Alberta government orders AHS to end vaccine mandate for health-care workers

Opposition health critic David Shepherd issued a statement following Copping’s announcement, saying he was “deeply disturbed” by the policy decision and said he believes Albertans can’t trust the UCP government to manage the health-care system.

READ MORE: Alberta municipalities will need province’s OK for face mask or COVID-19 vaccine passport bylaws

“Albertans who are at most risk to COVID-19 in hospitals should have the assurance that the staff caring for them are vaccinated against this deadly virus,” he said in part. “Clinical decisions should be made by health-care professionals, not desperate politicians.

“The UCP continues to be beholden to an extremist fringe, including the people who participated in the dangerous and illegal blockade at Coutts.”

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All teens in Alberta eligible for booster shots next week

Copping also announced Tuesday that as of March 14, all Albertans between the ages of 12 and 17 will be able to receive a third dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, as long as it has been at least five months since their last dose.

Some Albertans in that age group had already been eligible for boosters if they met certain eligibility criteria.

Click to play video: 'Alberta announces COVID-19 vaccines boosters for teenagers'
Alberta announces COVID-19 vaccines boosters for teenagers

The government said appointments can be booked immediately at AHS clinics or participating pharmacies. To book a booster appointment, Albertans can use the province’s booking system or call 811.

Latest COVID-19 numbers in Alberta

Hinshaw told reporters that the total number of coronavirus deaths in Alberta had increased by seven on Tuesday, bringing the province’s total number of COVID-19 fatalities to 3,979 since the pandemic began.

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Over the past 24 hours, 467 new COVID-19 cases were confirmed via PCR testing in Alberta. Hinshaw said the province’s positivity rate is currently at 20.5 per cent. The province’s total number of active COVID-19 cases declined slightly to 7,149 on Tuesday, down from 7,158 a day earlier.

However, Hinshaw has said because so few Albertans are eligible to receive a PCR test, the true number of both new and active cases is likely far greater than what is being reported. When asked if Alberta has any plans to make PCR testing available for the general population again, Copping said there is currently no such plan.

The total number of patients with COVID-19 in Alberta hospitals was at 1,106 on Tuesday, up by three from Monday. Of those in hospital with COVID-19, 77 are in intensive care units, the same number as a day earlier.

Click to play video: '2 years since Alberta’s first confirmed COVID-19 case: ‘We’ve come so far’'
2 years since Alberta’s first confirmed COVID-19 case: ‘We’ve come so far’

Hinshaw noted that Tuesday marks exactly two years since she confirmed Alberta had officially recorded its first case of COVID-19 and noted the world has come a long way since with the development of vaccines, antiviral treatments and a better understanding of how to mitigate the virus’ spread.

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READ MORE: ‘We’ll go out less’: Immunocompromised Albertans prepare for lifting of COVID-19 restrictions

“What we’ve seen over the past two years is extraordinary,” she said, adding that Albertans should try to be respectful of how people individually decide to live with COVID-19 now that almost all public health measures have been removed.

“Change is difficult. It is especially difficult when there is no single right answer to the challenges we face.”

READ MORE: Nearly all COVID-19 public health measures are now lifted in Alberta

Hinshaw noted that COVID-19 still poses risks to all people, especially those who are immunocompromised, but that it is something the province is now better able to manage.

Click to play video: 'Adjustments needed as COVID-19 response moves from pandemic to endemic: Hinshaw'
Adjustments needed as COVID-19 response moves from pandemic to endemic: Hinshaw

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