B.C. health officials have announced that COVID-19 vaccination will soon be mandatory for anyone who works in a health-care facility across the province.
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the requirement will come into effect on Oct. 26 and will apply to everyone who works in these settings, including students, physicians, residents, contractors, volunteers and all other health-care professionals. It also applies to people who work in home and community care locations, including client homes.
Health officials had previously announced a vaccine mandate for workers in long-term care homes. Workers who are not vaccinated in any long-term care or health-care facility will be placed on unpaid leave.
The news came on the same day that B.C.'s vaccine card came into effect, requiring everyone to show proof of vaccination before accessing a wide range of non-essential services and activities.
Henry said she was disheartened to see some people taking out their frustration with the card on health-care workers, in a possible reference to recent protests outside hospitals.
"They continue to care for people regardless of what their vaccination status is," she said. "We must come together in respect for health-care workers who have cared for us over the past year and a half."
WATCH | Health-care workers are exhausted and need the community's support, Dr. Bonnie Henry says:
The latest restrictions are coming into effect as B.C. continues to see a surge in transmission of the novel coronavirus. The Health Ministry announced Monday that 1,984 new cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed in the last three days, and nine people had died.
Henry also revealed that third doses of COVID-19 vaccines for immune-compromised people will soon be administered to those most at risk of infection.
She said this applies to about 15,000 people that the province considers to have extremely compromised immune systems who will receive invitations for third shots this week. They include recipients of whole organ transplants, bone marrow transplants and stem cell transplants, people with blood cancers and those with certain immune disorders.
She explained that research shows these people exhibit very few antibodies to the virus that causes COVID-19 even after two doses of vaccine and need further protection.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said 85.8 per cent of eligible people in B.C. have had their first shot, while 78 per cent have had both shots.
He added that the statistics continue to show that unvaccinated people are far more likely to become seriously ill from the disease.
He said there are 139 people who are currently in intensive care with the disease caused by the novel coronavirus and 121 of them are unvaccinated. Of the 38 people under the age of 50 in the ICU, 37 are unvaccinated.
Nurses' union opposes vaccine mandate
The B.C. Nurses' Union quickly responded to news of a vaccine mandate for health-care workers on Monday afternoon, saying that while it encourages nurses to be vaccinated it does not agree with making immunization a condition of employment.
"We cannot support any order which will serve to remove even a single nurse or other health-care worker from the health-care system at a time of severe crisis," the union said in a statement.
"Nurses and other health-care professionals are forced to deliver patient care in dire conditions all too often while battling two public health emergencies on the front lines. Based on pre-pandemic projections, British Columbia is on pace to be 24,000 nurses short by the year 2029."
The BCNU said it would like to see alternative measures, including moving nurses who refuse to be vaccinated to other settings where transmission can be controlled through rapid testing and personal protective equipment.
Henry headed off concerns about worker shortages during Monday's press conference, saying outbreaks of COVID-19 are likely to cause much more serious staffing issues. She also noted that vaccination rates are higher in the health-care sector than in the general population.
The British Columbia General Employees' Union (BCGEU), which represents roughly 23,000 people working in the health-care system including long-term and assisted living staff, health sciences professionals and mental health and addictions workers, said Tuesday it has not received the mandatory vaccine order in writing — but it is not, in theory, against it.
"We haven't seen the order yet and so the devil is always in the details," said BCGEU president Stephanie Smith during an interview on CBC's On The Island. "'At this point, we are not actively opposing the vaccine mandate."
Smith said the BCGEU is looking for clarity around who exactly the vaccine mandate applies to among their membership and what the process will be for people who have legitimate medical reasons for not being immunized.
Proof of vaccine required
As of today, British Columbians over the age of 12 will need to prove they have been vaccinated with at least one dose before they can access a range of non-essential indoor settings including restaurants, fitness facilities and arts venues.
Adults aged 19 and over will also need to show a government-issued piece of photo ID.
Henry and Dix both expressed disgust over reports of threats against restaurants and bars related to the vaccine card, including suggestions that large amounts of food might be ordered by people who have no intention of paying.
"It stuns and saddens me that people would find that an acceptable way of expressing their frustrations," Henry said.
By Oct. 24, people will need to have been fully vaccinated with two doses for at least seven days.
Dix said that as of Monday, 2.1 million people across the province have registered for their cards.
Cards are available through the provincial Health Gateway website. Mobile users can take a screenshot of the card, while desktop users can either take a screenshot or print it out.
Once you've loaded the website, you will need to enter your:
date of birth
date of vaccination — dose one or dose two
Until Sept. 26, people can show the vaccination card they received when they got their shots, along with identification, during a transitional grace period.
Those who can't access a computer and printer can:
ask a friend or family member to print their vaccine card for them;
call the province's call centre at 1-833-838-2323 to have their card printed and sent by mail;
visit a Service B.C. location in person to have the card printed.