British Columbia

B.C. expands health-care vaccine mandate to include doctors, dentists and other regulated professionals

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has announced that the province's vaccine mandate for health-care workers will now include dentists, chiropractors, and other health practitioners regulated by B.C.'s health-care colleges.

Health practitioners regulated by colleges given vaccination deadline of Mar. 24

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has given workers in the rest of the regulated health-care professions until Mar. 24 to get vaccinated. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C. Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has announced that the province's vaccine mandate for health-care workers will now include dentists, chiropractors and other health practitioners regulated by B.C.'s health-care colleges.

Henry made the announcement at a news conference on Wednesday. The vaccination deadline under the new order is Mar. 24 for all health-care practitioners who were not covered by an initial order on Oct. 26.

The Oct. 26 mandate covered all workers in acute care and long-term care settings, with Henry, at the time, announcing she was working with the province's 19 regulatory colleges on the new order.

"It is the vaccine mandate in health care that has made a huge difference in our ability to manage through this wave," she said Wednesday. "This is going to be a serious respiratory illness that's going to be with us at least for another year."

The new vaccine mandate is set to be rolled out in a phased manner, Henry said, and there will also be opportunities for those under the mandate to provide medical exemptions.

The order states that regulated health professionals with one dose before Mar. 24 may continue to work as long as they receive a second dose 28-35 days after their first dose.

The news conference comes a day after the B.C. NDP delivered its throne speech, in which the provincial government said keeping British Columbians safe and healthy as the COVID-19 pandemic persists remains its top priority.

The speech highlighted B.C. as having one of the highest vaccination rates in North America.

Restrictions on gatherings are set to expire on Feb. 16., and Health Minister Adrian Dix says the province is currently on track to see those eased or lifted.

Vaccination after getting infected

B.C.'s vaccine rollout continues to accelerate, with Health Minister Adrian Dix saying some residents ages 12-17 were now eligible to book their third shot. Dix said over 11 million vaccination doses have now been administered in B.C.

The health minister also said over 25 million rapid tests would be heading to B.C. at the end of February and that the province would be working on a larger distribution approach for them.

B.C. has been criticized for not rolling out rapid tests to the public fast enough, with Dix saying more details would be coming on the rollout next week.

As some vaccination appointments go unbooked, Henry clarified the recommended time to get vaccinated after getting infected.

It comes after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended that any vaccinated Canadian who gets infected should wait for three months before getting their booster dose.

Henry said she agrees with those recommendations, but also says people at higher risk of infection or who live in communal settings should prioritize getting vaccinated as soon as they are not infectious anymore.

"If you are otherwise healthy, you can wait up to three months after that infection [to get vaccinated]," she said.

Changes for nightclubs and bars

Health officials did not announce any further easing of public health restrictions on Wednesday, despite other provinces removing public health orders, amid widespread protests against public health measures.

On Jan. 25, officials said B.C.'s vaccine card would remain in place until June 30.

During the news conference, a reporter referenced a nightclub in Prince George which he said had opened up last weekend in defiance of public health measures, wasn't checking vaccine passports, had maskless patrons dancing and singing and whose social posts cited the truckers' convoy and the right to be free.

Dix told the reporter freedom doesn't give someone the right to hurt other people.

"There is no rights without responsibilities," said Dix. "If people want to assert their rights and dramatically and negatively affect other people's basic rights, well, that's not a Canadian value."

Changes are also coming for bars and nightclubs, which are still officially mandated to be closed under public health guidelines.

However, as some of them pivoted to serving food to stay open, a new order on Wednesday clarified what liquor-serving establishments must do to remain that way.

It states that businesses should offer full-meal services, including menus, with the help of catering partners and provide  details to enforcement officers on request.

Henry also announced that the province would no longer be reporting daily active cases, as testing changes mean those metrics are no longer accurately being tracked.

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