Those who choose not to be vaccinated or disclose status to employer risk eventual job loss
Courtney Dickson · CBC News · Posted: Oct 26, 2021 10:50 AM PT | Last Updated: 1 hour ago
Anyone working in a health-care setting in B.C. must be vaccinated against COVID-19 starting Oct. 26, 2021. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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As of Oct. 26, health-care workers in B.C. are required to be immunized against COVID-19.

The mandate includes anyone who works in any kind of health-care setting, including students, volunteers, physicians, residents, contractors and all other health-care professionals. It also applies to people who work in home and community care locations, including client homes.

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Those who remain unvaccinated will be placed on unpaid leave, and must receive a first dose by Nov. 15 if they want to keep their jobs unless they have a medical exemption.

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According to figures released late Monday by B.C.’s Ministry of Health, around 3,400 health-care workers in the province have not yet received a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. Another 2,600 have been vaccinated with only one dose.

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Together, that represents around five per cent of the province’s health-care workforce, the figures show.

Long-term care providers across B.C. fear staff shortages from vaccine policy

Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of B.C. union that represents about 4,500 paramedics in the province, estimates about 150 of its members remain unvaccinated and risk job loss.

Andrew MacPherson is one of those people. Although he says he loves his work as a paramedic — a job he’s done for 13 years — some things “are more important” than his work.

He refuses to disclose his vaccination status to his employer.

“The stakes are high, absolutely high. They’re even higher if I lose my human rights to my own privacy and my own right to put whatever I want in my body,” he told CBC’s On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko.

His concerns about COVID-19 vaccines are similar to those expressed by other vaccine-hesitant people — uncertainties about safety and efficacy, particularly when it comes to the mRNA vaccines created by Pfizer-Biotech and Moderna.

Health officials in B.C., Canada and around the world say the vaccines are safe and adverse effects are rare.

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Clifford said he respects people’s rights to make their own decisions.

“People have choices and our union absolutely respects people’s choices,” he said. “But there are laws that are being put in place, statutes that we have to abide by.”

“Not all choices come with no consequences,” he added.
A B.C. paramedic at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver on June 30. The loss of 150 paramedics would have a ‘significant’ impact on ambulance services in the province, union president Troy Clifford says. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

When the vaccine mandate was announced, the B.C. Nurses’ Union (BCNU) was critical of the decision, worrying that in areas where staff are already stretched thin that mandatory vaccines would make the situation worse.

The BCNU did clarify, however, that it does support vaccines and encouraged members to get immunized.
‘Significant’ impact on ambulance services

If all 150 unvaccinated members of the paramedic union chose to lose their jobs over getting the vaccine, it would have a “significant” impact on ambulance services, a job sector that is already short staffed.

“Losing one paramedic is something we can’t accept,” Clifford said.

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However, he said risking a paramedic’s health, or the wellbeing of their families or patients, would also greatly affect service, more so than losing a paramedic because they chose not to get vaccinated.

“I hate to see anybody that’s given their life for long periods of time, or any period of time, to serve, be put in those situations that they’re making that hard a choice,” Clifford said.

“I just hope they’re making them for the right reasons … because the consequences are significant.”

B.C.’s Minister of Jobs and Economic Recovery Ravi Kahlon said safety is the priority, especially in health-care settings where people are vulnerable to COVID-19.

“There’s going to be consequences for those who choose not to get vaccinated,” he said.

He said the B.C. government will invest in the health-care system to mitigate any challenges that arise from workers choosing not to get vaccinated and, ultimately, being let go.

When the health-care worker vaccine mandate announcement was made mid-September, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said outbreaks of COVID-19 are likely to cause much more serious staffing issues.

She also said vaccination rates are higher in the health-care sector than in the general population.