MONTREAL — Quebec's premier and its health minister on Wednesday defended their decision to impose mandatory vaccination for health-care workers, even as an opposition party and several unions urged them to push back the deadline to avoid potential service breakdowns.
As of last week, some 7,000 front-line health-care workers remained unvaccinated and could face suspension without pay after the government's Oct. 15 deadline.
Parti Québécois Leader Paul St-Pierre Plamondon held a news conference on Wednesday alongside five health-care unions, urging the government to delay the deadline to avoid a "generalized break in services."
Health Minister Christian Dubé said last week he had asked all the regional health networks to submit a plan by Oct. 1 on how to handle a possible lack of personnel after Oct. 15, but he has yet to publicize the details.
On Wednesday, Plamondon and the union heads blasted the government for their lack of transparency, and they called on the Legault government to explain how the province would avoid service disruptions in an already understaffed and overwhelmed health-care network.
"The labour shortage is widespread throughout the health and social services network," said Robert Comeau, interim president of the union representing professionals and technical workers in the health system.
"By suspending unvaccinated staff on Oct. 15, Premier Legault and Minister Dubé will worsen this situation and create service disruptions that will endanger the health of the population," said Comeau, with the Alliance du personnel professionnel et technique de la santé et des services sociaux.
Premier François Legault during question period Wednesday defended the mandatory vaccination plan, arguing he was incredulous that anyone would question the idea that health-care workers who treat patients need to be vaccinated.
"I think he is sending a very bad message with his question this morning, suggesting that it would be a mistake to put compulsory vaccination in the health network on Oct. 15," Legault said in response to a question from the Parti Québécois's health critic.
While Legault acknowledged that the province is short of nurses, he maintained there was currently "no break in services" and the plan would be carried out in a safe manner. He said only five of 1,000 health facilities have suspended certain services, such as obstetrics, but he said patients can get those services elsewhere.
Dubé, when pressed to clarify his plan on how to manage the possible loss of personnel, said the health network was working to reorganize schedules in light of the deadline.
He also maintained that the government had taken action to alleviate the short staffing, pointing to a project announced earlier this week that will allow some ambulance paramedics to work in emergency rooms on Montreal's south shore.
"I think we're taking concrete action every day, Mr. President, and we'll continue to do so," he said.
Meanwhile, Quebec reported 506 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and three more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. Health officials said COVID-19-related hospitalizations rose by three, to 294, while the number of people in intensive care remained stable at 90.
Officials said an additional 8,846 doses of COVID-19 vaccines were administered Tuesday, including 5,267 second doses.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 6, 2021.
Morgan Lowrie, The Canadian Press