Too soon to say what impact vaccine mandate will have on Quebec health system: Dubé

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MONTREAL — It's still too early to say how Quebec's health-care system will be impacted by a vaccine mandate that could lead to thousands of workers suspended at the end of the week, Health Minister Christian Dubé said Tuesday.

Dubé, however, said the province wouldn't change its health order requiring all health-care workers who are in close contact with patients to be fully vaccinated before Friday or risk being suspended without pay.

"We are not moving on the date," he told reporters in Gatineau, Que.

Around 3,000 nurses and 2,500 patient attendants remain unvaccinated against COVID-19, Dubé said, adding that the province was already short around 5,000 nurses.

"It's a big challenge," he said. The government, he added, was working on a contingency plan to reduce the impact of the potential suspensions on the health system. Dubé said the plan would be announced in the coming days and involve the "reorganization" of services, but didn't give details.

He said that while he empathized with people who were vaccine hesitant, he said he didn't understand why some health-care workers still refused to get vaccinated after what they had seen and experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic. "We respect their choice, but their choice has consequences," he said.

On Tuesday, the professional order that regulates pharmacists in Quebec said around 400 of members had not presented the order with proof of vaccination. The professional body has said it would suspend the licences of its members who refuse to be fully vaccinated.

Also Tuesday, the professional orders that regulate licensed practical nurses and respiratory therapists said members who are not fully vaccinated by Friday would not be able to work. The decision followed similar moves by the orders that regulate nurses and doctors, both of which have said they would suspend the licences of unvaccinated members starting Oct. 15.

Quebec reported 409 new cases of COVID-19 Tuesday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. The Health Department said COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by one, to 291, and 72 people were in intensive care, a drop of six patients.

The health authority in west-central Montreal said it would begin administering COVID-19 vaccine booster shots on Tuesday at the Donald Berman Maimonides Geriatric Centre. That long-term care facility was one of the first two seniors centres in the province to receive COVID-19 vaccines last December.

The government has said it would administer third doses of COVID-19 vaccine to people living in long-term care facilities and in private seniors residences six months after their second doses.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 12, 2021.

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This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jacob Serebrin, The Canadian Press

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