Yukon government employees have been given a couple more months to get their mandatory COVID-19 shots, Premier Sandy Silver announced Wednesday.
Public servants, including teachers and front-line health care workers, must still have at least their first shot by Nov. 30 but now have until Jan. 30 to get their second shot.
Last month, Silver said government workers would need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30. He said Wednesday that the change is based on new public health advice.
"For the last 20 months, our movements are based on the recommendations from the chief medical officer of health. That isn't changing now," Silver said.
Silver said Yukon's chief medical officer now recommends an interval of at least eight weeks between vaccine shots, and that's why the dates have been pushed back. The previous recommendation was for an interval of at least four weeks between shots.
"This will ensure employees and frontline health care workers that have not yet been immunized have enough time to receive both doses before the new requirements come into force," Silver said.
The government did not announce any change on Wednesday to the planned vaccination requirement for Yukoners who want to access non-essential businesses and attend events such as bars and restaurants, cultural events and gyms. Yukoners will still need to show proof of vaccination for those things, starting Nov. 30.
8-week interval between shots offers 'more durable protection'
Acting chief medical officer Dr. Catherine Elliott cited research by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization which found that an eight-week interval between shots was now preferred.
"People who have been vaccinated with that longer interval develop, over the longer term, a stronger and more lasting, more durable protection," Elliott said.
She said a four-week interval between shots is still considered to be effective and acceptable, and it was the right advice through the initial phase of the vaccination campaign when Yukon was prioritized to receive doses of the Moderna vaccine.
"I think the four-week interval, which many people in Yukon had, was the right choice at that time ... We were able to offer two doses to people very rapidly. We rapidly increased our vaccination rate," Elliott said.
"At this time, with the new knowledge and the new science, and with 85 per cent or our eligible population vaccinated, this is the time now to take that eight-week interval as well."
Silver said some of the logistics around verifying the vaccination status of government employees, and enforcing the mandate, are still being worked out.
"We're looking into the deadlines of proof, we're working with the unions right now. More will be communicated in the coming days and weeks," he said.
The premier also said that pushing back of the date of the vaccine mandate is not because of any public opposition to it.
Earlier this week, Yukon Party MLA Patti McLeod tabled a petition in the legislative assembly signed by more than 2,300 people. It urges the Yukon government to "immediately rescind any and all requirements for mandatory COVID-19 vaccination."
The Yukon Employees' Union, which represents about 6,000 workers, has also expressed concerns about the vaccine mandate and has filed a grievance challenging the "arbitrary nature" of the government's decision.
Increase in case activity
Also on Wednesday, Elliott offered an update on Yukon's COVID-19 cases. She said that there were 77 active cases in the territory, and two people were in hospital in Yukon.
Twenty-nine new cases were reported between noon Monday and noon Wednesday with 27 of them in Whitehorse, one in Carmacks and one in Watson Lake.
"We are seeing an increase in case activity," Elliott said.
Elliott described how the number of new cases in Yukon last month was up about 125 per cent from September.
The majority of new cases in October involved people under the age of 50, Elliott said, and nearly half of all the new cases involved fully-vaccinated people.
Elliott said those numbers show that the vaccine is effective, because the pool of unvaccinated Yukoners is now relatively small and yet they comprised half the new cases last month.
She also spoke about recent cases at Yukon schools, and the raft of exposure notices in recent weeks connected to certain classrooms. Elliott said so far there has not been much transmission between classrooms at affected schools.
She said that education officials have been doing a good job keeping schools relatively safe.
"While were continuing to see an increase in school exposure notices, we know that having kids in school is better for their mental health and well being, as well as for their learning," she said.