BC Nurses Union voice 'significant concerns' about healthcare worker vaccine mandate

Union opposes mandate

The BC Nurses Union says it has “very significant concerns” with the provincial government's mandate of COVID-19 vaccination for healthcare workers.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced Monday that as of Oct. 26, all workers, students, physicians, residents, contractors and volunteers at public healthcare facilities will need to be vaccinated.

In some "rare" cases, exemptions may lead to workers getting reassigned, moved to separate areas, or tested on a regular basis. But for those who choose not to be immunized, Henry said their choice would mean “leave without pay.”

The BCNU says that while it strongly encourages nurses and everyone else to get vaccinated, “we cannot support any order which will serve to remove even a single nurse or other health care worker from the healthcare system at a time of severe crisis.”

The union says B.C. is on pace to be 24,000 nurses short by the year 2029, based on pre-pandemic projections, and are calling on the government to take steps to avoid pulling nurses off the frontlines with the vaccine mandate.

“All other options need to be considered including potential redeployment to other health care settings where both patients’ and the workers’ safety is managed through other protections such as rapid testing and the appropriate use of personal protective equipment (PPE).”

Meanwhile, the Hospital Employees’ Union, which has workers in both long-term care and hospitals, said Monday’s announcement was “not unexpected.”

The vast majority of health-care workers have been vaccinated, said union spokesman Mike Old. The union is asking those who have not received the vaccine to seek out credible sources of information about COVID-19 vaccines and get their questions answered.

COVID-19 vaccines have been proven safe and effective — “and they’ve been a game changer in our health-care system,” said Old. “We encourage all health workers to get the vaccine if they’re medically able to do so.”

Unions across the country have been split on the subject of vaccine mandates.

The president of Unifor, Canada’s largest union, said last week that vaccine holdouts would likely lose their jobs and “stay terminated.” Other unions that have voiced opposition to mandates include police and transit labour groups in Ontario.

with files from Cindy E. Harnett

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