Mandatory vaccination for B.C. school staff up to boards, says Premier Horgan

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VICTORIA — Vaccine mandates for workers in British Columbia's schools are a last resort and elected board trustees know what's needed for their communities rather than the province enforcing such decisions, says Premier John Horgan.

Parent groups and the BC Teachers' Federation have called for all school districts to introduce a COVID-19 vaccine mandate in the absence of a provincewide order, while the New Westminster board of education has asked for a legal opinion on making the shots mandatory.

Horgan told a news conference Thursday that he understands the anxiety parents have to protect their children and to make sure that governments and school boards are doing everything they can to keep kids safe.

"It's good to see stakeholders, critical people like teachers, represented by the BC Teachers Federation (and) CUPE workers, the largest body of people in the K-12 system, their leadership saying that a mandate is the logical next step," he said.

"I'm confident that school districts will be agreeable to that."

Health officials are ready to ensure that all those who want to get a COVID-19 vaccine will get one, but the province isn't the employer in this case, Horgan said.

"There is a responsibility for elected representatives who put their hand up and said ‘I’d like to be on the school board’ to inform themselves about the best way to protect their employees and the children within their district."

Three B.C. school districts voted on their own to expand the mask mandate to students in kindergarten to Grade 3 last week, prompting the provincial health officer to impose the change provincewide starting Oct. 4.

Also Thursday, an independent group that analyzes the pandemic in B.C. released new modelling, which said cases among children rose steeply in the Fraser, Interior and Vancouver Island health authorities as they account for nearly half of the province's unvaccinated residents.

COVID-19 infections among those under 12 are higher than at any other time in the pandemic, it said, predicting at least 20 per cent will have had the virus within two years.

The report by 12 epidemiologists, mathematicians and data analysts, from the universities of Victoria and British Columbia, Simon Fraser University and the private sector, covers the period up to Oct. 4.

Pfizer Canada said it is preparing to seek Health Canada's authorization for its COVID-19 vaccine for children aged five to 11 by mid-October.

It submitted data to the Canadian government last week from a clinical trial on children that age, but hadn't formally requested authorization.

The vaccine was authorized for people at least 16 years old in December 2020 and for teenagers between 12 and 15 in May.

Horgan said officials in B.C. are working on logistics of delivering the vaccines to children if and when that approval comes.

The modelling report said the younger children will benefit if a vaccine is approved for their age group and that would help prevent the spread to adults, including those who are older and unvaccinated.

Pressure on B.C.'s intensive care units remains near peak levels but COVID-19 cases stabilized through September due to masking, vaccination and other public health measures, the report said.

The province reported 624 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, bringing the total number of active infections to 5,929. It also reported four more deaths, which brings the total number of fatalities to 1,996.

The Northern Health authority announced Thursday that only essential visitors would be allowed in any department of the University Hospital of Northern B.C. after outbreaks were declared in two in-patient units, and because of the general rates of COVID-19 locally.

BC Hydro said in a news release that it will require proof of COVID-19 vaccination for all employees and contractors working at their facilities, including the construction location for the Site C project.

The Crown corporation set Nov. 22 as a deadline for its employees to be fully vaccinated. Consultants and employees of contractors and subcontractors will be required to be fully vaccinated by Jan. 10, it said.

— By Hina Alam in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 7, 2021.

The Canadian Press

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