Appeal for more time as Quebec holds firm on mandatory vaccination for health workers

·3 min read

MONTREAL — Quebec is sticking to its mid-October deadline to have all health-care workers in the province vaccinated, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Friday, but some are suggesting more time is needed before the rule comes into effect.

Dubé told reporters in Lévis, Que., he's confident managers in the health network will be able to come up with a contingency plan and reorganize services in the event many staff remain unvaccinated and are unable to work. He said a month remains and urged employees to get their vaccines.

“We’re in a crisis situation, we’re taking measures that are temporary, we’re reorganizing (services), it’s temporary, but the most important thing is coming up with a solution for personnel and that’s what we’re committed to doing in the coming days,” he said.

Ahead of an Oct. 15 deadline for health-care workers to be fully vaccinated or risk suspension, about 20,000 workers — including 10,000 who work with patients — still haven't had their two shots.

As of Sept. 14, the province's public health institute says, 93.4 per cent of health workers had received a first dose and 89.5 per cent were adequately vaccinated.

But some say more time is needed, especially since the provincial government hasn't published the decree outlining the details of the health measure and what exemptions might exist.

The Health Department says the decree is expected soon, but one union leader said if the government was serious about the Oct. 15 date, it should have published a decree two weeks ago.

"It takes four weeks for people have two doses, we've got to give time for the network and for people who would want to get the two doses once they see the decree, we have to give them that time," Jeff Begley, head of the federation of health and social services unions, said Friday.

The vast majority of his members are vaccinated, and Begley said coercion is less effective than encouragement. "That's still our position, but if the government decides to go ahead with mandatory vaccinations, we want to advise our members knowing all the details," he said.

Paul Arbec, president of the provincial association of private long-term care homes, said of roughly 5,000 employees working at those residences, about five per cent remain unvaccinated.

"We were floating around 10 per cent of our employees that were reluctant to get vaccinated for ethical reasons, cultural reasons, religious reasons, and we've managed to get that down to about five per cent," Arbec said. "We've been working very hard to hire, because we'll be suspending people without pay who didn't get vaccinated."

Arbec said he doesn't think the government will back down, but he hopes provincial officials will show some leniency for those who might have got a first dose a little late.

"It's not just the nurses and orderlies. It's the kitchen staff, the cleaning staff. It hits every department," Arbec said, adding they'll formally request an extension on Monday. He said the number of unvaccinated staff could be cut further with more time.

Dubé acknowledged there were some risks in mandating vaccination, but he said it's for the protection of both patients and health workers, who he says are uncomfortable working with unvaccinated colleagues.

On Friday, Quebec reported 837 new COVID-19 cases and three further deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said hospitalizations increased by six to 262, with 95 patients listed in intensive care, a rise of eight. Dubé said the new intensive care cases were all among people who are unvaccinated.

Health officials said 21,813 vaccine doses had been administered in the previous 24 hours, including more than 7,200 first doses. According to the province's public health institute, 88.7 per cent of Quebecers 12 and older have received at least one dose and 83.9 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Sept. 17, 2021.

Sidhartha Banerjee, The Canadian Press

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