Thousands of workers have just 2 days left to get first COVID shot or face unpaid leave
Province 'sticking to' mandatory vaccination deadline of Nov. 19, says Premier Blaine Higgs
Thousands of New Brunswick workers could be sent home without pay Nov. 20 under mandatory vaccination rules if they don't get at least a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the day Friday.
But Premier Blaine Higgs said Thursday the government has no plans to extend the deadline.
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 facilities, schools and licensed early learning and child-care facilities must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 19.
On Nov. 20, employees who are not fully vaccinated and who do not have a medical exemption will be placed on unpaid leave.
With a 28-day wait between first and second doses, this is the last week anyone can get the initial shot and still meet the deadline.
As of Wednesday, figures obtained by CBC indicated almost 9,000 employees in the sectors subject to the order were not fully vaccinated.
In health and long-term care, nearly 4,000 people had not obtained a first dose.
Partial vaccination data was not available from other sectors.
Higgs said the government is monitoring the situation closely.
"It's disturbing that … we even have to go through this at this point, that we don't have all of them vaccinated," he said.
Although there has been a "significant" and "encouraging" increase in vaccination levels, it's "still a challenge."
"But at this point, we are still … sticking to our November 19th deadline because we have the dilemma of an increased risk of the delta variant spreading, and much of that related to unvaccinated workers."
Asked what the government is doing to prepare for the loss of those workers, particularly in the health-care sector, given the current labour crisis, Higgs said it's working with the Horizon and Vitalité health networks and will look at "mitigation efforts."
In the Horizon Health Network, vaccination rates are 87.51 per cent for at least one dose and 85.86 per cent for two doses.
Horizon has about 14,000 employees. None have obtained a medical exemption, said spokesperson Kris McDavid.
That means roughly 1,750 are at risk of missing Friday's deadline and about 2,000 need at least one shot within the next month.
In the Vitalité Health Network, approximately 1,000 workers had not yet received their first shot as of Oct. 11. About 1,400 need at least one more.
Those figures are based on a partial vaccination rate of 87 per cent and a full vaccination rate of 83 per cent, as of last Thursday's weekly update from the network, and a total number of employees of 8,000. Those are the most recent figures available, said spokesperson Thomas Lizotte.
Two employees had medical exemptions.
In long-term care facilities, there are 13,004 employees, said Social Development Department spokesperson Rebecca Howland.
As of Tuesday, 92.6 per cent of them had received at least a first dose of vaccine, Howland said, while 85.3 per cent had two doses. Nineteen workers had medical exemptions.
That means about 960 need a first shot by Friday and about 1,900 need one or two shots or they'll be sent home without pay Nov. 20.
"We are going to have a crunch," said Michael Keating, the interim executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes.
Some workers waited to get their shots and the announcement didn't leave them much time, he said.
Keating expects three to four per cent of nursing home workers will miss the Nov. 19 deadline.
"So we're going to go through a short period of time where we're going to be probably really short of staff."
That could ease after a couple of weeks, he said, once more employees have time to get vaccinated.
"But we're still worried that there's about 10 per cent of our workforce that is going to refuse to get the vaccine, and that's going to cause no end of problems for us in terms of being able to staff," he told CBC's Shift.
People are working hard to find ways to prevent staffing shortages from getting so bad that beds or facilities have to close, Keating said.
Ambulance New Brunswick/Extra Mural
At Ambulance New Brunswick, 84.65 per cent of employees have received two doses of a vaccine and 89.94 per cent have received one dose, said Medavie Health Services New Brunswick spokesperson Christianna Williston.
According to its last annual report, ANB employed 1,024 paramedics. That would leave about 100 needing a first shot this week and about 160 needing a second in the next month.
In the Extra Mural program, 85.32 per cent of workers are double-dosed and 89.19 per cent have had one shot, she said.
Its website says it has over 900 workers, meaning about 100 need a first shot by tomorrow and about 130 still need their second dose.
Asked what steps Medavie is taking to encourage vaccination, Williston said it has implemented the same mandatory vaccination policy for all MHSNB employees, and 84.78 per cent have received two doses, while 86.41 per cent have received one dose.
In the school system overall, more than 90 per cent of the roughly 17,000 full-time, permanent staff – including but not limited to school district staff, administration, teachers, educational assistants, custodians and bus drivers – have shown proof of full vaccination or a medical exemption, said Flavio Nienow, a spokesperson for the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.
That means 1,700 full-time staff have had one shot or no shots. He didn't say how many fell into each of those camps.
"For isolation and testing purposes, partially vaccinated employees follow the same procedures as unvaccinated employees. As such, our data collection does not prioritize information regarding partially vaccinated employees," Nienow said in an emailed statement.
"That said, we continue to gather information from all seven school districts and will have more to share in the coming weeks."
Another 3,000 replacement workers in the school system are also subject to the mandatory vaccination policy. No data was available for them.
Some employees in the education system have already been terminated for refusing to follow testing or masking protocols, said Nienow. As of Sept. 20, that number was fewer than 10, he said. He did not say how many quit.
He also declined to provide a further breakdown of how many employees got both shots versus how many obtained a medical exemption.
"We are committed to protecting the personal information of our staff as per the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. As the number of medical exemptions is negligible, and therefore may also breach the personal health information of staff as per the Personal Health Information Privacy and Access Act, we are unable to comment further," he said.
Early learning and child care
The Education and Early Childhood Development department also licenses and monitors early learning and child-care facilities. However, Nienow said he was unable to comment on the vaccination status of their employees because they are run by private operators.
Asked how the province will enforce mandatory vaccination at these centres if it has no way of knowing which employees are vaccinated, he said vaccination is a requirement for gaining and maintaining employment, which is enforceable through regulation.
"It has been added to the list of criteria that is routinely analyzed through quality and safety inspections," he said.
Families or members of the public who have any concerns about their facilities are encouraged to contact the department, he added, saying complaints will be taken seriously and investigated promptly.
"Alternatively, concerns regarding compliance to the mandatory order can be addressed through Justice and Public Safety enforcement teams."
There were 4,855 people employed as child-care workers in New Brunswick as of 2016, according to Statistics Canada, and another 3,240 as early childhood educators and assistants.
In the civil service, the total number of employees was 10,316 as of year end, said Finance and Treasury Board communications manager Erica Jutras.
The department does not track partial vaccination statistics, Jutras said.
However, as of Thursday, 9,321 employees had shown proof of having full vaccination, she said.
Three employees have medical exemptions.
That means 995 still have to show proof of vaccination or medical exemption.
N.B. Power has approximately 2,600 employees, said spokesperson Marc Belliveau, who did not provide any vaccination figures.
"Currently we are working with employees and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union (IBEW) to understand their vaccination status and plans based on current requirements," Belliveau said.
He added the utility had "no concerns" about being able to continue to serve customers effectively.
WorkSafeNB also said it was "confident that client services will continue seamlessly."
WorkSafeNB employs more than 500 staff across the province, said Laragh Dooley, executive director, corporate communications.
More than 90 per cent are fully vaccinated, Dooley said, adding the number "continues to climb."
"As a Crown corporation and stewards of health and safety in the province, we fully support the government's vaccination policy and encourage all of our staff to comply," she said.
The Financial and Consumer Services Commission employs just over 100 employees. Ninety-eight per cent are fully vaccinated, said senior communications officer Erin King.
The New Brunswick Community College has 945 employees and, as of Tuesday, 92.3 per cent were fully vaccinated, said spokesperson Tanya Greer.
The College Communautaire de Nouveau-Brunswick has 797 employees, said spokesperson Johanne Lise Landry. Their vaccination rate was 91.4 per cent as of Tuesday. That means about 70 employees still need at least one shot.
Between 80 and 85 per cent of about 800 "team members" at N.B. Liquor and Cannabis N.B. have received both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, said public relations officer Tom Tremblay. That leaves 140 to 160 to complete their requirements.
The Atlantic Lottery Corporation says internal surveys indicate a "high" vaccination rate among its employees, but it did not disclose the figures and says it's not following the mandatory order.
"As a multi-jurisdictional organization owned by our four provincial shareholders and with employees in each region, we have been continuously assessing our obligations with regard to each province's mandatory vaccination policy," said spokesperson Greg Weston.
"Although we have not adopted New Brunswick's policy at this time, we are closely reviewing the recent announcements on vaccine mandates from the other provincial shareholders and will make any further updates to our vaccination policy as required."
Atlantic Lottery continues to "strongly encourage" its employees in all four Atlantic provinces to get vaccinated and is providing employees with paid leave if necessary in order to receive their vaccinations, Weston added.
Service New Brunswick is included in the civil service figures, said Jutras.