British Columbia

Nurse says she's 'a little embarrassed' by union's opposition to B.C. vaccine mandate

A Vancouver nurse says she’s embarrassed her union isn’t supporting mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health-care workers as B.C. faces a punishing fourth wave of the pandemic.

Josanne Dubeau doesn't buy worries of worker shortage, says COVID-19 outbreaks cause more staffing issues

B.C. has made COVID-19 vaccination a condition of employment for all workers in the health-care system. (Mike Simons/Tulsa World/The Associated Press)

A Vancouver nurse said she's embarrassed her union isn't supporting mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for health-care workers as B.C. faces a punishing fourth wave of the pandemic.

After the province announced Monday that anyone working in a health-care facility will need to be vaccinated for the novel coronavirus or will be placed on unpaid leave, the B.C. Nurses' Union (BCNU) announced that it couldn't support the move.

BCNU leaders have said they encourage everyone to get vaccinated, but they are concerned that a mandate could lead to staffing crunches in an already strained system.

Registered nurse Josanne Dubeau said she worries that stance will put patients at risk.

"We need to keep the focus on the patients and we cannot undermine the importance of being vaccinated," she told CBC News.

"I'm ... a little embarrassed that nurses would come out with that statement."

Dubeau said she worries the union is sending the message that it will support nurses who refuse the vaccine and resist the mandate, taking away the incentive to get the shot.

"There's a lot of incentive, if you know you're not going to be paid, to go and get a vaccine," she said.

Union cites 'desperate staffing challenges'

Union leadership acknowledged nurses' concerns about their lack of support for the vaccine mandate in a "clarification" issued Wednesday, but did not change their stance.

"We appreciate that a very high percentage of our membership is vaccinated and that nurses value the importance of a science-based approach to public health," the BCNU statement said.

"Of the small percentage of members who are unvaccinated, BCNU is looking to health employers to extend other precautionary measures such as rapid testing, strict adherence to PPE protocols and redeployment to other care settings where it is safe to do so."

The union said there are parts of the province where the percentage of unvaccinated nurses is higher than in other areas, which could mean "desperate staffing challenges" in some facilities. 

The BCNU argued that "hundreds, if not thousands" of health-care workers could be removed from "an already depleted workforce" if vaccines are required, and said it wants to see evidence of contingency planning from the B.C. government to address potential staffing shortages.

Dubeau said she's more concerned about the worker shortages that might happen if unvaccinated nurses are allowed to continue working.

"When you have an outbreak at a site or you have other staff contracting COVID because of an unvaccinated staff, you'll have far greater shortages and stresses on the health-care system," she said.

Dubeau added that she wishes the BCNU had polled its membership before coming out against the mandate, because right now it seems like the union is standing up for unvaccinated nurses rather than the co-workers they are putting at risk.

"Maybe they need an education campaign instead for the nurses who aren't listening to science and aren't supporting the fight against COVID," she said.

With files from Anita Bathe