Montreal

Quebec may force health-care workers to get vaccinated

Quebec is considering imposing vaccines on health-care workers amid a rise in new COVID-19 cases in the province.

Premier's office added the rule would not apply to other public-sector employees

Back in June, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé told health-care staff in oncology departments to get vaccinated or be subject to three COVID-19 tests per week. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

With COVID-19 cases again on the rise in Quebec, Premier François Legault may force health-care workers to get fully vaccinated against the disease — a mandate that is largely supported by the medical community.

"We are not ruling out anything to protect the population and not confine Quebec again," said Legault's office in a written statement Thursday.

The statement says such a mandate would only be for health-care workers and not other public sector employees.

This came soon after the premier said people will need proof of vaccination to access non-essential services in the event of a fourth wave. People will need vaccine passports to go to movie theatres, restaurants and gyms.

On Tuesday, the Canadian Medical Association and the Canadian Nurses Association took a stand in support of mandatory vaccination for health-care workers across the country.

Internationally, the mandate is becoming increasingly common. For example, France has ordered all health-care workers to get vaccinated by Sept. 15. Greece and Italy also have put similar rules in place.

Early on in the pandemic, Quebec health-care workers were found to be responsible for some outbreaks in hospitals and long-term care homes as they moved between rooms and medical facilities.

At times during the pandemic, more than 10,000 medical workers were in quarantine because they had contracted COVID-19, were exposed to it or were scared of catching it.

These absences added to the strain on the health-care system, which was left short staffed while managing a larger-than-normal influx of patients.

1 in 5 health workers lack 2nd dose

Quebec's public health institute says 84.4 per cent of Quebec residents 12 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine and 70.3 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

It says 89.9 per cent of health-care workers had received one dose as of Aug. 4 and 80.4 per cent were adequately vaccinated.

"We're talking about a very marginal group that's left," said Jeff Begley, head of the federation of health and social services union (FSSS-CSN).

Quebec Premier François Legault has been announcing measures, ranging from a lottery to vaccine passports, in his effort to convince the population to get vaccinated. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

He would like the government to sit down with union representatives to discuss the mandate because there are people — such as those who are medically exempt and expecting parents — expressing concerns about the vaccine, he said.

Leading doctors and scientists from around the world have said the vaccines are safe for those who are pregnant or want to get pregnant.

Among them is Dr. Joss Reimer, head of Manitoba's COVID-19 vaccine implementation task force. Back in June, she said back mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer-BioNTech's and Moderna's could save your life, and they won't negatively impact fertility or pregnancy.

Reimer, who also works in a clinic and specializes in the areas of sexual and reproductive health, said "there is no evidence that exists to suggest that any vaccines, including those that protect you from COVID-19, pose a clear health risk to people who are pregnant, nor to the unborn children."

A vaccination should be a health-care priority throughout a pregnancy, because pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe outcomes from COVID-19, she said. 

It's a responsibility, virologist says

Montreal virologist Benoit Barbeau says ultimately, those who work in hospitals and seniors' homes have a vital responsibility to get fully vaccinated.

They need to offer "the best safety to patients who have all kinds of problems. Including those who are more severely ill, immunocompromised or have any chronic disease," he said.

Barbeau said the delta variant is a serious concern and the province is taking the right approach.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Thursday his government is mulling vaccine mandates for federal workers and employees in federally regulated industries.

A health-care worker waits for patients at a COVID-19 vaccination clinic in Montreal's Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021. (Paul Chiasson/The Canadian Press)

Meanwhile, Quebec is reporting 218 new cases of COVID-19 today and one more death attributed to the novel coronavirus, which occurred on Aug. 3. It's the first death linked to the virus since July 22.

On Thursday, Quebec's Liberal opposition called on the Legault government to be much more coercive by forcing health-care workers to be vaccinated.

"We have a weapon against COVID, it's the vaccine. So it is common sense that people who are near patients are vaccinated. It is a question of public protection," said party spokesperson Marie Montpetit.

Health-care workers were the first segment of the population to have access to the vaccine from mid-December.

In June, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé gave health-care staff in oncology departments an ultimatum: either get vaccinated or be subject to three COVID-19 tests per week.

with files from Josh Grant, Radio-Canada and The Canadian Press

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