Manitoba

Premier Stefanson says no to mandatory vaccinations for care home staff

Despite COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of Manitoba care homes, the province's premier has no plans to make vaccinations mandatory for staff.

5 care homes in Manitoba currently have outbreaks, with 109 cases

Manitoba Premier Heather Stefanson says she'd rather educate people about the benefits of vaccines than make them mandatory for care home staff. (David Lipnowski/The Canadian Press)

Despite COVID-19 outbreaks in a number of Manitoba care homes, the province's premier has no plans to make vaccinations mandatory for staff.

Since October, unvaccinated health-care and personal-care-home workers in the province are required to submit to testing every 48 hours. If they refuse that, they will be put on an unpaid leave of absence.

That's about as close to compulsory as Heather Stefanson wants things to be.

"I don't like mandatory vaccines, no. But I do believe that there's more work that needs to be done to ensure that we educate those individuals so that they know the science behind the vaccine," the premier told CBC Manitoba Information Radio host Marcy Markusa on Friday.

There are five personal care homes in the province in the midst of COVID-19 outbreaks during this fourth wave of the pandemic, with 109 cases reported.

During the first year of the pandemic, roughly half of the deaths in the province related to personal care homes. 

A total of 86 people died and hundreds more were infected at outbreaks than ran through Maples Long Term Care Home and Parkview Place, both in Winnipeg.

On Thursday, Dr. Samir Sinha, director of geriatrics at Mount Sinai Hospital and the University Health Network in Toronto, told Markusa that Manitoba won't get ahead of the outbreaks in long-term care facilities without mandatory vaccinations for workers.

"Frankly, if you're not actually putting that layer of protection in, then it's as if you've just basically left the drawbridge down in front of your castle. You're just inviting people to come in, in this case the virus, and lead to outbreaks and unfortunately, death," said Sinha, who is conducting research across the continent with the National Institute on Aging.

Ontario has had a similar number of outbreaks as Manitoba, yet Ontario is 13 times larger in population, he said.

"It reminds me that when we don't do things, people's lives are put at risk."

Stefanson on Friday said she is pleased to see so many people in Manitoba getting the vaccine. Government data says 85.2 per cent of Manitobans born on or before Dec. 31, 2009, have had two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 87.7 per cent have one.

We've heard all week from those on the front lines of homelessness and health care, Indigenous leaders and business owners. They have shared both hope and skepticism for a much needed improved relationship with the new and first female premier of Manitoba. Heather Stefanson joined Marcy Markusa for the first of a monthly check-in with the premier on Information Radio.

As well, more than 25,000 appointments for kids age 5-11 (who became eligible last week) have been booked this week. There are about 125,000 kids in Manitoba in that age group.

"The vaccine works. It keeps people out of hospital and keeps people out of ICU, and this is just something we're going to continue to educate Manitobans on," Stefanson said.

Surgery backlogs

The premier was also asked about Manitoba's growing backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures and the task force she promised to create to deal with the wait list.

A report from Doctors Manitoba released last month said the backlog of surgeries and diagnostic procedures has grown to nearly 130,000. 

Stefanson has said that clearing that backlog — which has driven some patients to seek options in other provinces, or even other countries — is her first priority.

She reiterated that on Friday but called it a "top priority" when speaking to Markusa, not her first priority.

Asked about the status of the task force and when Manitobans could expect to see some concrete changes in the wait list, Stefanson said the minister of health will have more details next week.

"But it doesn't mean there isn't a lot of work already going going on. There's incredibly talented people working on the front lines right now trying to help with those backlogs," she said.

"I just want to thank all of those incredible individuals for what they're doing. This is a very, very difficult time for everyone, but particularly those working our front line."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt

Reporter/Editor

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, first at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

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