N.S. says all health-care workers, school staff must be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30
Those who don't get jabbed will be placed on unpaid leave and could face eventual termination
Everyone who works in schools or health care in Nova Scotia must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Nov. 30, the province announced Wednesday.
After that date, anyone who is not fully vaccinated will be placed on unpaid administrative leave and could face eventual termination. All new hires must have proof of full vaccination.
"There have been three deaths in the last week alone and we need to do whatever we can to make sure other families don't have to grieve their loved ones," Premier Tim Houston said in a news release Wednesday.
"Too many Nova Scotians have chosen not to get vaccinated, and some of them work with Nova Scotians most at risk from COVID-19. It is time to get tough."
The new mandate applies to more than 80,000 employees in the province:
- People who work for Nova Scotia Health and the IWK Health Centre.
- Workers in long-term care facilities (licensed and unlicensed) and home-care agencies (publicly and privately funded).
- Public school teachers, pre-primary and other school-based staff, regional centres for education staff, and those providing services in schools, including cafeteria and school bus services.
- People who work for Hearing and Speech Nova Scotia.
- Workers in residential facilities and day programs funded by the Department of Community Services disability support program and adult day programs funded by the Department of Seniors and Long-term Care.
- Workers in Department of Community Services facilities and those providing placements for children and youth in the care of the minister of Community Services (excluding foster family placements).
- Paramedics, LifeFlight nurses and some other staff at Emergency Health Services.
- Physicians and other service providers to the above organizations; for example hairdressers and contractors.
Employees must show proof of vaccination. If they have had one or no doses of the vaccine, they must participate in an education program. The province said it will not provide employers with any additional funding to cover leaves of absence related to vaccine status.
There are 58,763 Nova Scotians who are eligible to get vaccinated but have not had any doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.
The vaccine mandate allows for a medical exception for those who are unable to be vaccinated due to a medical reason. An exception letter can only be issued by a nurse practitioner or physician.
Dr. Robert Strang, the province's chief medical officer of health, said at a briefing Wednesday that the list is just a starting point and he and his team hope the new policy will lead to a "significant chunk" of unvaccinated people getting vaccinated.
Strang said the decision not to include daycare workers in the list of groups requiring mandatory vaccination was taken after consultation with education officials.
"The awareness within the Department of Education was that they didn't see that there was a significant need at this point in time to include daycares," he said.
He said the risk of severe disease and hospitalization is the lowest among young children but there is still a need to limit spread in that age group.
Strang said the delta variant had thrown a "curve ball" into previous reopening plans. The province can continue to open up but not as quickly as hoped, he said, noting new variants could emerge and there's not a lot known about the long-term effects of the virus.
Strain on businesses
As of Monday, Nova Scotia is also requiring people to show proof of vaccination before being allowed into places like restaurants and gyms.
Asked about the added strain that could be placed on businesses checking for vaccination status and dealing with disruptive clients, Houston said he would continue to listen to the concerns but the measures being taken were a "necessary step."
"There may be a bit of growing pains in the beginning," Houston said. "But I believe this will be a very efficient process once it's rolling."
Health Minister Michelle Thompson said the reason for setting Nov. 30 as the deadline date was to allow time between the first and second vaccine shots.
She said the province was trying to be fair to people who had not considered getting vaccinated before.
Nova Scotia Nurses' Union president Janet Hazelton welcomed the clarity from the government and the consistency it creates for workers across the province.
Prior to the announcement, Hazelton said there were concerns that some long-term care homes might make vaccines mandatory for staff while others might not. This removes that concern, she said, and also gives patients peace of mind about the people providing their care.
Nova Scotia has a 20 per cent nursing vacancy rate and continues to struggle to retain enough continuing-care assistants.
While the mandate could make that situation even more difficult if some workers choose to walk away rather than be vaccinated, Hazelton said there is a bigger issue to consider.
"We have to weigh that [against] if they're not vaccinated, what happens if they bring [COVID] into the facility and infect people, especially in our long-term care facilities," she said.
"We have to be responsible. I'm hoping that health-care workers will see that this is a good thing, that they will go to work and they will be as protected as if they went to a hockey game."
Hazelton's message to her members yet to be vaccinated is to talk to their family doctor or nurse practitioner to help inform their decisions.
"They trust them. They've trusted them for many years, probably. They need to talk to them about their fears and get educated with proper sources, not necessarily anecdotal stories."
Teachers' union pleased
Nova Scotia Teachers Union president Paul Wozney was also pleased to hear about increased protective measures announced Wednesday.
The province extended the mask mandate and will soon distribute take-home COVID test kits for some students.
As for the vaccine mandate, Wozney said the union has long encouraged all of its members who do not have a medical exemption to get vaccinated.
"We have a significant segment of our membership that has pushed us to proactively, to preemptively call for a vaccine mandate," he said.
Although he's still waiting on further details, Wozney said he supports the measure in principle and would work with government and public health officials on the policy rollout. He also welcomed the education component for people who have yet to be vaccinated.
"If you don't have a medical reason to not be vaccinated, there are very few legitimate reasons as to why you shouldn't be at this point."
With files from Michael Gorman