Groups representing doctors, nurses call for mandatory vaccination of health-care workers

·3 min read
Nearly 68 per cent of eligible Canadians are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the country's vaccination campaign is losing momentum. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)
Nearly 68 per cent of eligible Canadians are now fully vaccinated against COVID-19, but the country's vaccination campaign is losing momentum. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press - image credit)

The Canadian Medical Association (CMA) and the Canadian Nurses Association (CNA) are jointly calling for COVID-19 vaccinations to be made mandatory for health-care workers.

The two organizations today joined a growing number of calls to make vaccines a mandatory condition of employment in the health care sector.

"As health providers, we have a fundamental duty of care towards our patients and the public. There is significant evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and as health professionals who are leading the vaccination campaigns, it is the right call and an appropriate step," said CMA president Dr. Ann Collins.

The organizations say that mandatory vaccinations would protect patients and workers from the novel coronavirus while helping to maintain capacity in the health-care system.

Other health sector groups, including the Ontario Medical Association and the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario, have also called for mandatory vaccines for health-care workers.

To date, no government in Canada has made vaccines mandatory. The governments of France, Italy and Greece have introduced legislation that effectively mandates COVID-19 vaccinations for health-care workers.

The American Medical Association and the American Nursing Association were among dozens of U.S. medical groups that formally called for mandatory vaccines in a statement issued last week.

CMA says vaccination rates 'close to 100 per cent' are needed

"We need those [vaccination] numbers to be close to 100 per cent to keep the public safe," said Dr. Katharine Smart, the CMA's incoming president.

"Health-care workers really have a responsibility to the people they serve to ensure that the spaces where people access care are safe."

Smart said some health-care workers "have questions and concerns" about the vaccines, "just like anybody else."

Those workers also represent a broad cross-section of the Canadian public and some of them face structural barriers to vaccination, she added. Those barriers can include a lack of paid time off to get the shot and a lack of access to sick days in the event of vaccination side effects.

Canada lacks detailed statistics on vaccination rates among health-care workers. Among eligible Canadians age 12 and older, 81 per cent have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while nearly 68 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Canada's vaccination figures place Canada among the world leaders in vaccination rates. There are signs that uptake is beginning to taper off, however — which has some experts warning that a fourth wave of the pandemic could be on the horizon.

The delta variant, which is substantially more transmissible than previous versions of the coronavirus, now accounts for the majority of new cases in Canada.

Would vaccine mandates hold up in court?

According to an article published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal by a trio of University of Ottawa law professors, making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for health-care workers would be an effective public health policy that likely would stand up to any legal challenges.

The paper's authors — Colleen M. Flood, Bryan Thomas and Kumanan Wilson — said that if governments require vaccines for health-care workers, challenges to that policy likely would have to proceed under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

"Governments should be able to successfully defend such a challenge" as long as provisions are made for people with underlying health conditions and those who oppose vaccination on the grounds of "bona fide religious or conscientious objection," the article says.

The authors said that mandates issued by individual employers could be more vulnerable to legal challenges, which could be made under labour laws rather than the charter.

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