New Brunswick

Province 'reviewing' mandatory vaccine policy for health-care workers

The Higgs government has opened the door to dropping its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for health-care workers.

Ontario and Quebec both dropped vaccine mandates over fears of staff shortages

Premier Blaine Higgs said it's 'disappointing' the vaccination uptake among health-care workers hasn't been as high as some of the other sectors. (Robert Short/CBC)

The Higgs government has opened the door to dropping its mandatory COVID-19 vaccination policy for health-care workers.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said in the legislature Thursday she is "reviewing" the decisions of Ontario and Quebec, which have both backed away from requiring health-care workers to be vaccinated, citing fears of staffing shortages.

Shephard made the comments in response to a question from People's Alliance MLA for Miramichi Michelle Conroy, about whether New Brunswick might follow the other provinces' lead.

New Brunswick's current policy requires that by Nov. 19, all government employees provide proof they are fully vaccinated or have a medical exemption. Otherwise they'll be placed on unpaid leave.

As of Thursday, about 1,968 health-care workers are still not fully vaccinated, Shephard told reporters.

Conroy told the legislature she's received "many calls" from workers who are not going to be sent home without pay. "And these people are not anti-vaxxers. Some are nurses and paramedics," she said.

"They are citizens who are generally concerned of the risks with the vaccine and feel they should be able to be tested and still go to work."

"Considering we are critically short-staffed as it is and we cannot lose any workers," Conroy questioned whether the government plans to stick to its vaccine mandate, and if so, what its plan is to keep services operating.

Shephard replied that the government is "aware" of the Quebec and Ontario decisions.

"I have to emphasize that we have seen what happens when the [virus] gets into our hospitals, gets into our long-term care sectors. It is a very difficult time and we know that the best way to prevent that is through vaccination," she said.

Health Minister Dorothy Shephard said more than 1,900 employees of the two regional health authorities and Medavie are still not fully vaccinated, as of Thursday. (Ed Hunter/CBC)

"We're still working diligently with everyone, those who are resistant to getting their vaccines, trying to, you know, use every piece of information we can to suggest that this is our best way."

The government is also reviewing the decisions of other jurisdictions across the country and staying in touch with medical officers of health. "We won't have a decision on that until in the forthcoming days," Shephard said.

Premier Blaine Higgs told reporters it's too soon to make any decisions about the vaccination policy because there has been a "big uptake" in vaccinations among employees in the education system, nursing homes and Crown corporations.

"The area that is the biggest concern is in the health-care field, where we haven't seen the same uptake to get vaccinated as we have in those other areas."

It's disappointing, Higgs said, because when people go to the hospital or a clinic, they want to know that the people there are vaccinated.

"I don't think that's too much to ask."

The province is assessing the situation day by day, he said.

"We will understand here soon what needs to be our next step."

Higgs announced Oct. 5 that all provincial government employees in the civil service, the education system, the health-care system and Crown corporations, as well as staff in long-term care homes, schools and licensed early learning and child-care centres must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 19.

 

With files from Jacques Poitras

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