A new vaccination policy for public servants in Alberta is a good start — even if it is both too little and too late, say medical experts and Opposition MLAs.
"This [should] have happened a month ago," said Dr. Ilan Schwartz, an assistant professor of infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.
"It's better than never. But really, what we are begging for is some kind of public health measure that is going to decrease transmissions now."
The new policy, announced by Premier Jason Kenney on Thursday, will require all 25,500 provincial employees to submit proof of full vaccination by Nov. 30.
Employees can be exempted if they obtain an accommodation based on the Alberta Human Rights Act or if they produce a negative PCR test result, obtained at employee's expense, within 72 hours of every scheduled workday.
Some other provinces have already moved in this direction including Saskatchewan, which is also struggling under the fourth wave of COVID-19, said NDP health critic David Shepherd.
"Their mandate comes into effect tomorrow," Shepherd said Thursday. "So once again [Alberta Premier] Jason Kenney and the UCP are sadly acting last and acting least."
Schwartz said he's not discounting the importance of vaccinations but said they aren't a replacement for public health measures that would decrease infections.
Dr. Kashif Pirzada, an emergency room doctor in Ontario, where a similar requirement went into effect Sept. 15, agreed, saying the policy would have had more impact if it had come sooner.
"This surge means that too many people are getting infected in Alberta right now and it's going to take a while for these folks to develop immunity," said Pirzada. "It's too little, too late from my perspective."
Implement policy for elected members, NDP says
The Alberta NDP said Kenney is falling short on another front by not extending the mandate to the elected officials and, in particular, the UCP's elected members and staff.
On Friday, the Opposition demanded that Kenney eject any UCP MLA who refuses to be vaccinated from the government caucus.
"If they refuse to be vaccinated, there's no place for them in the government caucus," said NDP deputy House leader Thomas Dang, who sits on the standing committee for members' services.
Kenney said Thursday that conversations are underway about bringing in a version of the vaccine policy for all MLAs and staff working within the legislature precinct, which would require proof of vaccination or proof of a negative test.
There are constitutional concerns around potentially banning an elected member from the chamber, he added.
Shepherd and Dang both said no one from the NDP had been involved in any discussions about such a policy. They said the Opposition would support a policy.
All 24 NDP MLAs and 30 staff members are fully vaccinated, Shepherd said.
The premier's professed concern about the policy's constitutionality should be discussed by a wider group of Alberta's elected officials, he said.
"Whatever the premier may think, this is an opportunity for an item for discussion at the members' services committee," Shepherd said.