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B.C. hospital workers say double standard at work as doctors not forced to get vaccinated

The COVID-19 vaccine order for nurses and other health-care workers in hospitals remains in place, and some say that raises an issue of inequality.
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A syringe is loaded with COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER — More than 600 unvaccinated hospital workers fighting to get their jobs back say it is unfair that Dr. Bonnie Henry isn’t requiring doctors, dentists, chiropractors and other health professionals to get vaccinated to keep their jobs, as they were, their union says.

“We’re disappointed that the vaccine requirement is not evenly applied across the health- care workforce,” Meena Brisard, secretary-business manager of the Hospital Employees’ Union, said in an email. “It feels like a double standard when high status health professionals are given a pass on the vaccine requirement that applies to 180,000 other health care workers.”

The HEU said there are an estimated 2,500 workers, including HEU members who work as aides, cleaners, orderlies and others, who lost jobs because they refused vaccination against COVID. They had to have been vaccinated by fall.

The Health Ministry is compiling updated statistics on unvaccinated health care workers who lost jobs, but it wasn’t ready on Monday.

In a health order under consideration last month, B.C. was to require doctors, dentists, chiropractors, physiotherapists, naturopaths and pharmacists to be vaccinated by March 24 to keep their jobs.

The announcement caused 227 of B.C.’s 1,389 chiropractors, or 15 per cent of the total, to issue a “notice of liability” and a promise to sue individual directors of the College of Chiropractors of B.C. because they claimed a health hazard posed by the unvaccinated was “without merit” and that injections are unsafe.

But last week, B.C.’s public health officer revised her plans to order vaccination of health professionals, leaving it up to various practitioners’ colleges to determine who needed vaccination to deliver health services without risk to others.

The vaccine order for nurses and other health-care workers in hospitals remains in place, and Brisard said that raises an issue of inequality.

“Dr. Henry has called this change in approach a ‘more nuanced, risk-based approach’ but there were no such considerations when the vaccine requirement was applied to the full range of health authority employees, including those who have no interaction with patients,” said Brisard.

“It doesn’t make sense that someone in a medical supply warehouse can be terminated for not getting vaccinated when a dentist or doctor with close contact with their patients can continue to work unvaccinated,” she said.

Henry’s new order would require information be given to patients so they could decide whether they wanted to be treated by a doctor who is not vaccinated.

Colleges are to collect members’ vaccination status before March 31.

“It’s up to individual colleges to make its own calls, allowing for the fact that certain professionals in certain settings may be able to do their work and may not need to be vaccinated,” such as someone who sees all patients online, said Dr. Brian Conway, president of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre.

Conway said the new policy positions the health-care system for living in an endemic situation rather than a pandemic, with colleges instead of a central authority making rules for its members.

The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. told its members it would come up with protocols after the deadline and Conway said it is still possible it wouldn’t allow any of its members to work without a vaccine.

The doctors’ college didn’t answer a request for comment on Monday.

The chiropractors’ college president, Dr. Johnny Suchdev, wasn’t available for comment but the college said on its website: “This order does not impose a COVID-19 vaccination requirement” and that it was collecting the status of its members before taking the next step under the order.

The college reminded members they need to be vaccinated if they worked at a facility, such as a long-term care home, which is covered by a vaccine order.

“Physicians have a duty to care towards patients,” which includes an obligation to act in the benefit of the patient and to try to prevent or minimize harm, said Canadian Medical Association spokesman Eric Lewis in an email.

“This includes getting vaccinated against disease such as COVID-19 when a safe, effective vaccine is available, as is the case today.”

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