Premier John Horgan defended leaving the decision about mandatory vaccinations for school staff in the hands of each individual school board.
Earlier this week, the provincial government announced roughly 30,000 government employees in B.C. would be required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 22, but the mandate was not extended to school staff.
Instead, the decision to enforce mandatory vaccinations among teachers and support staff has been left in the hands of the 60 individual school boards across B.C.
“We need to make sure that the province's school districts, which are duly elected and have authority and responsibility when it comes to their staff, are all having a say in how we proceed,” Horgan said Thursday.
“We are not the employer in this case ... There is a responsibility for elected representatives, who have put their hand up and said 'I'd like to be on the school board,' to inform themselves about the best way to protect their employees and the children within their district.”
He added that mandates are a “last resort,” and the vast majority of eligible British Columbians – 88.4% with the first dose – have already chosen to get vaccinated.
The BC Teacher's Federation and the Canadian Union of Public Employees have both lent their support to mandating vaccinations for school staff.
"I think it will be done in short order but we have to respect jurisdictions here," Horgan said. "School board trustees work tirelessly to keep their schools going in their districts and they are as diverse as British Columbia. What's needed in Sooke is not the same as what's needed in Vancouver which is different from what's needed in Valemount."
As cases continue to rise rapidly among school-aged children, Horgan says he expects Health Canada to review plans to expand vaccinations for children aged 5-11 in the next few weeks.
Interior Health currently lists 18 Central Okanagan schools with recent COVID-19 exposures.
Mandatory mask usage was expanded this week to all school-aged children who are in B.C. classes.
Horgan reiterated that the pandemic in B.C. is now largely one among the unvaccinated. From Sept. 28-Oct. 4, people not fully vaccinated accounted for 70.2% of cases and from Sept. 21-Oct. 4, they accounted for 77.6% of hospitalizations.
He also noted that BC Hydro will be announcing mandatory vaccinations for staff later Thursday afternoon. At BC Hydro's Site C work camp, 243 people have contracted the virus this year.