COVID-19 vaccine not mandatory, health-care workers 'encouraged' to get it

Health-care workers who decline the COVID-19 vaccination will need to continue to follow strict guidelines around health checks and the use of personal protective equipment, according to the B.C. Ministry of Health.

In a statement Friday, the ministry said B.C. doesn’t have mandatory immunization programs, including for the COVID-19 vaccine, but health-care workers are being “encouraged” to get it. The statement said the vaccine provides “good protection for seniors, meaning they are protected regardless of the health-care worker’s immunization.”

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There are 51 active outbreaks in long-term care and assisted-living facilities in B.C. as of Thursday, as well as 10 in acute care. The outbreaks involve 2,333 people, including 1,501 residents and 752 staff with active cases.

A survey of B.C. care ­workers conducted in December found that 57 per cent of workers planned to get the ­vaccine, while 28 per cent were unsure and 15 per cent didn’t intend to get it.

Conducted by SafeCare B.C., the survey was disseminated to care workers through both the B.C. Nurses’ Union and the B.C. Government Employees’ Union, and had received 1,500 replies as of Dec. 18.

Respondents over age 65 were more likely to say yes to the vaccine, while those in the 24-to-34 age group were the least certain, with 20 per cent saying no and 30 per cent unsure. Survey feedback indicated this could be related to concerns about pregnancy, breastfeeding and fertility. Men were more likely to say yes than women.

CEO Jennifer Lyle said the results of the survey weren’t a surprise as they tend to track with what the public is feeling.

“There is always going to be early adopters and those with more questions,” she said.

The association, which advocates for safe working conditions for continuing care providers, is working to get answers to people with questions on the vaccine’s safety and testing standards.

“The good news is that there are answers to those questions,” said Lyle.

She didn’t know what policies would need to be put in place to protect workers and residents if large numbers of care workers decline to get the vaccine, but suggested one thing that could increase safety was rapid testing.

B.C. Nurses’ Union president Christine Sorensen said the union is encouraging all of its members to be vaccinated, but it doesn’t believe in mandatory vaccination. “We must respect individual choice,” she said, emphasizing the need for informed consent when administering any ­medication.

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