Vaccine mandate coming for N.L. public sector workers, says premier

·4 min read
Newfoundland and Labrador could implement a vaccine mandate for public sector employees as early as next week. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)
Newfoundland and Labrador could implement a vaccine mandate for public sector employees as early as next week. (Patrick Butler/CBC - image credit)
Patrick Butler/CBC
Patrick Butler/CBC

Newfoundland and Labrador could mandate COVID-19 vaccines for public sector employees in just one week, says Premier Andrew Furey.

At a briefing Tuesday, Furey said the provincial government is already in discussions with the unions representing the province's public sector workers, from health-care workers to teachers.

"We feel it's our responsibility to protect the people that we serve," Furey said.

The announcement came the same day the province provided details on how its vaccine passport system will work.

Furey said discussions with unions have been "open," and most have been receptive so far.

"Overall, there was a general willingness to participate, recognizing the current situation across the province," Furey said.

In a statement, Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers' Association spokesperson Jennifer Tulk said the union recently became aware of the government's plan for mandatory vaccinations, and is holding internal discussions.

"As with any decision by government that may impact working terms/conditions for NLTA members, meaningful consultation with the NLTA is required and details are critical," Tulk said.

In a CBC News questionnaire last spring, some of the province's teachers indicated they would support a vaccine mandate.

On Wednesday, the Newfoundland and Labrador Medical Association released a statement in support of mandatory vaccinations for all health-care workers.

"It's our job to make sure that every health-care professional, as much as we can, leads by example and makes sure that they don't get COVID 19 and pass it to their patients," said NLMA president Dr. Susan MacDonald in an interview with CBC News.

MacDonald said she doesn't know if all physicians in the province are vaccinated but the "vast majority" are.

Mark Quinn/CBC
Mark Quinn/CBC

She said the mandate could include consequences for physicians who refuse to get vaccinated and do not have a valid medical exemption.

"We hope we don't have to call for consequences. We hope that people do the right thing. But with anything else, there are consequences if you choose not to follow," she said.

In an email, a spokesperson for the College of Registered Nurses said they were waiting for more details from the provincial government before commenting on the mandate.

CBC has asked the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees for comment.

Questions still remaining

The province had previously shied away from committing to a mandate for its public sector workers.

In August, Health Minister John Haggie told reporters that a vaccine mandate could be a legal and charter issue, and the province was waiting to see what would happen in other jurisdictions across the country before bringing in its own mandate.

Now that the federal government, along with other provinces and territories, have announced some version of a vaccine mandate for workers in the public sector, the province is following suit.

Details on the mandate remain scarce, as do details on the vaccination status of the province's public sector workers.

Patrick Butler/CBC
Patrick Butler/CBC

At a media briefing Wednesday, Haggie said the government has not yet determined what repercussions employees will face for refusing to get vaccinated. He said the Department of Justice and Public Safety is developing a regulatory framework.

Public health officials have not provided vaccination rates for health-care workers or public sector workers, although they said the vaccine rate among health-care workers is estimated to be high.

At Tuesday's briefing, Haggie said it is difficult to determine the vaccination status of health-care workers because some who work in the private sector also self-identify as working in health care.

"What we do know in general is that the vaccination rate of health-care workers tends to mirror the vaccination rate of the communities in which they live and work," he said.

Patrick Butler/CBC
Patrick Butler/CBC

Public health officials have not confirmed if any cases of COVID-19 in hospitals or long-term care were transmitted through staff, but acting chief medical officer of health Dr. Rosann Seviour pointed to the low rates of COVID-19 in the province's long-term care homes.

There are seven people in hospital due to COVID-19 in Newfoundland and Labrador.

When asked during a briefing on Wednesday if anyone in hospital had been vaccinated, Seviour said she could not reveal that information due to privacy concerns.

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