B.C. health-care workers numbering 3,325 are on unpaid leave after going without a single vaccine dose for COVID-19.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said during a Monday briefing unvaccinated health-care workers remain “principally a challenge in Interior Health.”
About 5% of health-care workers in the Interior Health region are unvaccinated compared with 2% in Fraser Health, Vancouver Coastal Health and Island Health, respectively. In Northern Health, that number is 4% (or 320 employees).
All health-care workers were required to be vaccinated by Oct. 26 or face unpaid leave ahead of potential termination.
The deadline appears to have spurred some to get their first shot. Six days ago, 4,090 health-care workers were unvaccinated — drop of about 700 people.
Unvaccinated workers have until Nov. 15 to get their first dose while they are on unpaid leave.
A total of 2,064 of health-care workers have received one dose.
Dix said his ministry was considering the option of transferring some workers from regions under less pressure to the Interior Health region.
“If now is not the time that you start to believe in the importance and the value of vaccination and protecting people, then I don’t know when is,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
“If people in our health-care system are not recognizing the importance of vaccination, then that’s probably not the right profession for them.”
Public servants also face an impending deadline of Nov. 22 to disclose their vaccination status or else they will be considered to be unvaccinated and face being placed on unpaid leave for three months.
Partially vaccinated workers “may be” offered alternative working arrangements, said Dix. They will be required to show proof of being fully vaccinated within 35 days of getting their first dose.
“Employees who are still unvaccinated [after] three months of unpaid leave may be terminated,” Dix said.
Meanwhile, British Columbians who received two doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be eligible for a booster shot within six months of their second dose.
“This may be sooner than other healthy adults in the community,” Henry said.
She said the AstraZeneca vaccine — a viral vector vaccine — has showed signs of waning protection against COVID-19 compared with mRNA vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna.
AstraZeneca recipients will be offered an mRNA vaccine as a booster.
The timing for other booster shots will depend on the recipient's age and risk levels, while vaccines will also be made available concurrently for children five to 11, pending approval from Health Canada.
Higher-risk populations are considered to be those ages 70 years and older, as well as Indigenous populations in rural locations, residents in long-term-care and assisted living, the immuno-suppressed and health-care workers who received their initial two doses at a shorter interval than the general population.
Some of these groups began receiving boosters in September and the new campaign, announced last week, will focus on others in those groups through to December.
The government estimates it will begin administering boosters in January to those considered clinically extremely vulnerable (but not immuno-suppressed), health-care workers in long-term-care and assisted living, health-care workers in the community and then the remaining general population 12 and older.
To date, 93% of long-term care facilities in the province — or 491 out of 536 facilities — have received booster doses.