B.C. dropping COVID-19 vaccine rule for public servants as spring booster campaign launches

Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry during a news conference in Vancouver, B.C., on Friday, Mar. 10, 2023. (Ben Nelms/CBC - image credit)

British Columbia is rescinding its policy requiring provincial public servants to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as it announces a spring booster program that will focus on the elderly and vulnerable.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry says the next round of boosters will target people at the "highest risk" of severe illness.

That includes people aged at least 80, Indigenous people aged at least 70 and long-term care residents.

People who are at least 18 and are moderately to severely immunity compromised are also recommended to get a booster in the campaign, which Henry says will begin "for the most part" in April.

The province has meanwhile announced that from April 3, B.C. Public Service employees will no longer be required to provide proof of vaccination.

The Ministry of Finance says in a statement the decision to rescind the policy was made "based on the high level of vaccination among public-service employees and the current state of the pandemic."

It says more than 98 per cent of employees met the requirement.

The statement says ending the policy means "a small number" of employees on administrative leave due to non-compliance will get the chance to come back to work.

Vaccine still mandated for health-care workers

The government says people are still required to be vaccinated if they work in settings under provincial health officer orders or other vaccination requirements, and vaccine mandates remain in place in the "highest-risk" settings like health-care facilities.

"The vaccination requirement for public-service employees, introduced in November 2021, was always intended as a temporary measure to help protect employees and the people they serve," the statement says.

It adds that vaccination "continues to be the best protection against severe illness with COVID-19 for individuals, including children and youth, and has helped protect B.C.'s health-care system and the economy."

Stephanie Smith, president of the B.C. General Employees' Union, says the union has requested a meeting with the B.C. Public Service Agency to discuss the change and ensure all members received "equitable treatment" under the now-rescinded policy.

"From the beginning of the pandemic, BCGEU members have demanded clarity on how employers' decisions affect us and our working lives," she says in a statement. "Our union has a number of questions about how this change will impact our members."

Henry, speaking at a briefing with Health Minister Adrian Dix, says that people aged at least 60 and Indigenous people aged 50 or more who haven't had COVID-19 should consider getting a booster.

Henry encouraged anyone who falls outside the categories she described but still wants a booster to discuss the matter with their health-care provider.