Saskatchewan

Sask. doctors asking province to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for health-care workers

Saskatchewan doctors are calling on the provincial government to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health-care workers across the province, in hopes of “stunting an anticipated fourth wave of the pandemic.”

'There's an obligation on the part of everybody' to stop the spread: SMA president

The Saskatchewan Medical Association is calling for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all health-care workers, as the province continues to see a rise in new cases. (Ted Jackson/The Associated Press)

Saskatchewan doctors are calling on the provincial government to make COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health-care workers across the province, in hopes of "stunting an anticipated fourth wave of the pandemic."

In a news release Wednesday, the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) said the request comes as the province continues to see an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Health officials reported 141 new cases in the province on Thursday — the highest single day total since May. There were also 69 people in hospital, most of whom are unvaccinated, the province said.

"It's easy for a surge in numbers to again disrupt, on a great scale, the normal activities that [health-care workers] do, and we're struggling to cope with what's happening," SMA president Dr. Eben Strydom told CBC News.

"We are in a different position as health-care workers with regards to our responsibility toward our patients and reducing our risk [of spreading COVID-19]."

With the highly contagious delta variant circulating throughout Saskatchewan, Strydom, who's also a family physician practising in Melfort, Sask., emphasized the province must do "everything possible" to make sure all residents — but especially those working in health care — have both of their doses.

"The vaccines have been available now for quite some time. We've seen the impact they have and we know they save lives," he said.

"I think there's an obligation on the part of everybody involved to do what we can to be able to control this [pandemic] and the impact it has on every facet of our [health-care] system."

Strydom added a provision should be made for people with medical exemptions, such as those who have allergies to components of the vaccine, have proof it's harmful to their health or object for religious reasons.

The Saskatchewan doctors' call echoes similar requests across the country in Ontario and New Brunswick, along with the national associations representing physicians and nurses.

Dr. Eben Strydom, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association and a practising family physician in Melfort, Sask., is among the chorus of voices calling on the province to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for health-care workers. (Saskatchewan Medical Association)

In a joint statement to CBC News, the Ministry of Health and the Saskatchewan Health Authority said neither has a COVID-19 vaccination mandate in place for its employees.

However, the health authority noted it "strongly encourages all of our staff and physicians to be vaccinated for COVID-19 to protect themselves and their patients."

The health authority also told CBC News it could not provide a breakdown of immunizations by work type, meaning there are no immediate numbers outlining how many of its workers have or have not been vaccinated.

Despite having needed proof of employment when priority workers were immunized in the first and second phase of the vaccine rollout, the health authority said the immunization database doesn't record employment details. 

Doctors concerned about loosening of restrictions: SMA president

Strydom said doctors across Saskatchewan are also concerned about this summer's loosening of COVID-19 restrictions.

"I think everybody needed a break and hoped the pandemic would be over by now, but it isn't. As a matter of fact, I think it's getting worse," he said, noting he's particularly worried about the delta variant spiking case and hospitalization numbers.

With students — many of whom are under 12 years old and unable to be vaccinated — heading back to school in less than a month, Strydom said it's especially crucial the province uses vaccines as a tool to keep numbers down.

"We know [kids] have sports, activities and travel, and so we expect that there are going to be some repercussions from that. If the numbers are low, we can handle that — but if we have outbreaks, then we know that that can be extremely disruptive," he said.

As a precaution, Strydom urges people to continue to practise the health measures they've been using throughout the pandemic. That includes wearing masks in indoor public places, washing hands regularly, physically distancing when possible, and staying home and getting tested for COVID-19 when sick.

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