The Saskatchewan Health Authority will require all its health-care workers to provide proof of full vaccination, with a phased approach that began on Friday.
By Oct. 15, staff, physicians and other contract workers will have to provide a declaration of their vaccination status, their intention to be immunized or seek accommodation, or their intention to take part in a monitored testing program — which the worker would have to pay for themselves, the health authority said in a Friday news release.
Anyone who decides not to comply with any of those options will have to go through regular processes set out by their collective bargaining agreements or practitioner staff bylaws.
In a news conference, the health authority's physician executive for integrated rural health said an estimated one in five health-care workers are currently not vaccinated.
"I think that it is unfortunate," said Dr. Kevin Wasko.
"We know now after many months with the vaccine that it is demonstrating both that it's effective at reducing cases of COVID, that it is also effective at reducing the severity of a breakthrough case if it were to happen, and that vaccines are our way out of the pandemic," he said.
"So that's frustrating."
By getting vaccinated, Wasko said, health-care providers protect themselves, their patients, and other members of the community.
"I really do hope that this will be an incentive for the rest of the health-care workforce to also get vaccinated," he said.
When asked why some workers may opt not to get vaccinated, Wasko said he doesn't believe health-care workers are immune to myths and misinformation about the pandemic or vaccines.
According to the health authority's news release, the need for the policy comes following the mounting risk of the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.
Saskatchewan has faced a dramatic increase in COVID-19 cases since early July, the release notes.
On July 1, Saskatchewan's seven-day average of new daily cases was 44, according to the province's online COVID-19 dashboard. As of Saturday, it was 478 — an increase of nearly 1,000 per cent. The province added 19,429 cases to its pandemic total in that time frame.
Wasko added that some people seeking health-care services are now requesting care from people who are fully vaccinated, and workers are asking the same of their colleagues.
"There are cases where a health-care worker has brought COVID into the workplace, and it has resulted in another health-care worker getting sick with COVID. Those are the types of scenarios that we want to prevent," he said.
"The best way to do that is to ensure that our entire workforce is fully vaccinated."