New Brunswick

Mandatory vaccinations for health workers may be coming, says premier

Mandatory vaccines may be in the works for health-care workers if the COVID-19 situation in the province doesn’t improve, according to the province.

Some long-term care home's vaccination rates for workers lagging behind general population

Premier Blaine Higgs said he wouldn't wait long before implementing mandatory vaccines for health-care workers. (CBC NB)

Mandatory vaccines may be in the works for health-care workers if the COVID-19 situation in the province doesn't improve, according to the province.

The province had been giving workers a choice between either getting the vaccine or being subjected to continued testing and masking requirements.

But in an interview with Information Morning Moncton on Monday, Premier Blaine Higgs said he can envision a time when vaccines become mandatory and that time may be in the not–too–distant future.

"I'm not willing to wait any more than this week. If we find that we need to go further, we will go further," said Higgs.

Vaccinations of workers at some long-term care facilities have lagged behind the general population.

As of August 31, the most recent numbers available, there were still 10 long-term care facilities where fewer than 50 per cent of employees had been vaccinated.

In the general population, 88.1 per cent of eligible New Brunswickers have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, compared to 82 per cent of long-term care workers.

The employee numbers also include people who "intend" to get the vaccine, not just the already vaccinated.

Last week, CBC News reported that at least 25 residents and 15 workers were infected with COVID-19 at five nursing homes.

Michael Keating, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, said unvaccinated workers are the first to become infected in long-term care facilities. (Radio-Canada)

This includes an outbreak at the Drew Nursing home in Sackville where 24 residents and seven staff members tested positive as of Sunday. 

Michael Keating, executive director of the New Brunswick Association of Nursing Homes, told CBC News at the time that unvaccinated employees were the ones becoming infected first.

The province has seen record rates of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations over the past week.

These infections have affected a large number of schools, many with children who are under 12 and cannot get a COVID-19 vaccine.

There have also been hospitals that have struggled to get their vaccination rates up.

Last Friday, Dr. France Desrosiers, CEO of Vitalité Health Network, said the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin only had a 40 per cent vaccination rate among employees. That number was later changed to 64 per cent, still far below the provicial average.

Dr. France Desrosiers, president and chief executive officer of Vitalité Health Network, said only 40 per cent of employees at the hospital in Saint-Quentin had been fully vaccinated. (Government of New Brunswick/YouTube)

While Higgs is toying with the idea of mandating vaccines, he also said the province has to consider the shortage of workers in long-term care facilities and hospitals.

He said simply sending unvaccinated employees home without a replacement is "unworkable" and added the province had success with keeping the virus out of medical facilities before vaccines were available.

"I know the variant is different, but in the previous times, we masked up, we suited up, you know, wore all of the protective equipment and we operated for months without any vaccines of any kind," said Higgs. 

"So we can protect the individuals in the homes or in hospitals."

Clarifications

  • A previous version of this story said the vaccination rate at the Hôtel-Dieu Saint-Joseph de Saint-Quentin was 40 per cent. This number was provided by the Vitalité Health Network, which lataer said the actual rate had risen to 64 per cent.
    Sep 28, 2021 9:15 AM AT

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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