In an about-face, facing a drastic service reduction, Quebec (Canada) has decided that health-care workers already employed won’t be forced to get a COVID-19 vaccine, the province’s health minister said Wednesday.
Minister Christian Dubé said that the province is facing 500 service reductions or reorganizations if it goes ahead with its planned Nov. 15 deadline for staff vaccines.
Instead of the previous plan, now only new hires will be required to be vaccinated, he said, though the province will try hard to replace those workers with vaccinated ones over time.
For now, those without vaccines will be subjected to a “rigorous” testing system, with three tests a week, Dubé said. Those who refuse the tests will be suspended without pay.
There will also be no COVID-19 bonuses or retention bonuses for the unvaccinated.
“To deprive ourselves of 8,000 people [in health staff ranks] will have devastating consequences for our network,” Dubé said.
Of those 8,000 unvaccinated staff, 5,000 have direct contact with patients, including 1,200 nurses and 1,300 orderlies, many working in nursing homes, Dubé said. However, the province hopes to change their jobs to move them away from the most vulnerable patients.
The overall vaccine statistics have also improved a lot since the province first came up with its vaccine ultimatum in late August.
The vaccination rate among public health-care staff has gone from 93 per cent to 97 per cent, said Public Health Director Dr. Horacio Arruda. The stats for staff in the private network aren’t clear.
Wednesday’s news comes after the province already pushed its original deadline for staff to get vaccinated, Oct. 15, back by a month.
Just since that postponement, about 15,000 more people have been vaccinated, authorities said.
Dubé said he’s still very unhappy that 3 per cent of health-care staffers won’t be vaccinated, but said 97 per cent coverage is “exceptional,” also praising Quebecers as a whole for their vaccination rate.
“For many Quebecers, myself included, this remains incomprehensible that health workers won’t get vaccinated,” he said, adding that the province has “done everything” to convince the remaining 3 per cent.
“I think some people will be disappointed by the decision,” he said.
“I want to remind all Quebecers that they’ve gotten vaccinated in very big numbers… that meant we could make this decision today.”
Currently, workers in the public system who aren’t vaccinated but have direct contact with patients must be tested for COVID-19 three times a week before their shifts.