Quebec's Health Ministry issued a decree Saturday that verges on making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health-care workers in certain sectors.
In a news release Saturday afternoon, the ministry said the move is necessary due to "the growing risk presented by the transmission of new highly contagious variants" and concerns about "large-scale outbreaks" that could threaten vulnerable people or essential services. The decree is effective immediately.
The decree states that workers in certain sectors will have to show their employer proof of COVID-19 vaccination. Those who refuse to provide proof of vaccination and those who received their vaccine dose within the previous 14 days will need to undergo recurrent preventive screening.
Workers can refuse to participate in the screening, in which case they will be reassigned to similar tasks in a sector not affected by the decree. If reassignment is refused or not possible, the workers will be put on leave without pay.
The sectors and workplaces affected by the decree are:
Emergency units, with the exception of psychiatric emergency units.
Intensive care units, with the exception of intensive psychiatric care.
COVID-19 clinics, including screening, assessment and vaccination clinics.
Units created to group together patients who have tested positive for COVID-19.
Residential and long-term care centres and certain other accommodations.
Health-care workers who previously contracted COVID-19 and who have not been vaccinated will not be required to take a screening test within 90 days of the date of onset of symptoms, or, in the case of asymptomatic persons, the date on which they tested positive.
Previously, health-care workers were required to be tested in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak, if deemed necessary by the management of the facility in which they worked. But preventive screening remained voluntary.
As for vaccination, the health network has strongly encouraged its workers to be vaccinated for the past few months, but had not made it obligatory.
The Health Ministry says it considers vaccination as the most effective way to prevent infections, protect health-care workers and vulnerable people, and limit the number of outbreaks and their size.
In January, the provincial public health research institute's ethics committee wrote that the compulsory vaccination of health-care workers was not justifiable since it was still not clear whether the vaccines selected protect the transmission of the virus to users.