It’s a “significant and solemn day” in the B.C. healthcare sector, as thousands of workers are placed on unpaid leave for refusing to get vaccinated.
Tuesday also marks the day that employees of care homes who refused the vaccine will be formally terminated in the wake of a similar mandate in that field that went into effect Oct. 12. Unvaccinated healthcare workers will meet the same fate on Nov. 15.
“This is a necessary step, but a solemn day,” said Health Minister Adrian Dix on Tuesday. “It has implications for those people and their families and for patients and their families.”
Dix provided updated statistics that show a total of 1,369 employees of Interior Health, seven per cent of the workforce, remain unvaccinated. Other health authorities are reporting unvaccinated rates of between two and five per cent.
Across B.C. there are 4,090 unvaccinated healthcare workers, meaning the impact on the mandate on patient care will be felt the greatest in the IH region. There are 2,626 partially-vaccinated workers working towards full vaccination status.
Dix struck a sympathetic tone when addressing the job losses Tuesday, calling the mandate a “very strong action needed in a pandemic” to protect healthcare workers, patients and the public.
“But it's also a very solemn thing for people who have contributed to the care of others to be facing that.”
Regardless of vaccination status, he said all people who work in the healthcare sector do so with “great commitment.”
That’s something reflected in the tears of Kelowna General Hospital employees who worked their last shift Monday night and said goodbye to colleagues during a small midnight vigil.
Dix said he is hopeful healthcare workers see the light, get vaccinated and return to work.
Based on B.C. data from over the last four weeks, an unvaccinated person is nine times more likely to be diagnosed with COVID-19, forty times more likely to be hospitalized and 41 times more likely to die when compared to a vaccinated person.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said it is “disruptive and detrimental to care” when a COVID-19 outbreak hits a hospital.
“That is the reason why we have this vaccine mandate in place,” she said.
Henry said the province is looking to other parts of the healthcare system to supplement areas in the BC Interior dealing with staffing shortages due to the mandate.
“A lot of work has been done on that.”
Dix said the province has dealt with many regional challenges over the course of the pandemic, and those struggling regions have been supported by the rest of B.C.
“I want to say to everybody in the Interior, we will be there for you. Just as the healthcare system was there for people in the north and in Fraser Health and on Vancouver Island, in Vancouver Coastal Health throughout this pandemic,” the minister said.
Across the Interior Health region, there are 1,436 base hospital beds. The province has added surge beds to that, bringing the total to 1,842. Right now in the IH region, there are 1,528 beds occupied.
“We want, obviously, those numbers to come down. That's critically important. And this challenge of people who are unvaccinated adds to that,” he said.