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Interior restrictions eased, vaccine mandate coming for province's health-care workers

In an update to B.C.'s COVID-19 response, Interior Health-specific restrictions will be eased in settings where B.C.'s vaccine card system is used. Meanwhile, a vaccine mandate has been introduced for health-care workers province-wide, coming into effect on Oct. 26
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A number of changes have been announced to B.C.'s COVID-19 response, including mandatory vaccination for anyone who works in a health-care facility, eased restrictions in Interior Health for events and settings using B.C.'s vaccine card system, third doses for some who are clinically extremely vulnerable.

Effective Oct. 26, anyone in B.C. who works in a health-care facility, including home and community care workers, will need to be vaccinated against COVID-19 under a new order from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry.

"This includes all workers, students, physicians, residents, contractors and volunteers who work in a health-care facility, including contracted facilities," she said.

Henry acknowledged the very rare instances of necessary medical or religious exemptions and said her office will have a process in place to review individual requests.

Those who are deemed exempt may be reassigned or need to undergo regular testing, Henry said.

"But the ultimate end for people who choose not to be immunized and work in health-care is leave without pay," she added.

Health Minister Adrian Dix estimated the mandate applies to upwards of 100,000 people, but noted vaccination rates among nurses are already in the high 80s, percentage wise, and about 96 per cent among physicians.

Another announcement made on Monday is the relaxing of health restrictions in the Interior Health region for events or settings that use the province's vaccine card system to restrict entry to those who are vaccinated.

Additional health measures were imposed in the Interior Health region in late August, following a surge of cases in the region. The measures included restrictions on gathering and attendance limits for organized indoor and outdoor events.

This means that indoor organized events that were previously limited to just 50 people will now be able to allow up to 50 per cent of capacity, if the vaccine card system is in place. Henry confirmed this applies apply to events such as Western Hockey League games.

(In the wake of the changes, the Kamloops Blazers altered its pre-season schedule, adding a home game against Prince George this Friday.)

Finally, the province also announced third doses of the COVID-19 vaccine would be made available to some who have been deemed clinically extremely vulnerable to the disease.

Henry explained that those who are severely immunocompromised do not respond to the vaccine as well as others, which is why a third dose is necessary. That group represents approximately 15,000 people who will be notified this week to book appointments.

The BC Nurses’ Union is opposed to a vaccine mandate, as outlined in a position statement on vaccination the union released just last month.

“BCNU strongly encourages nurses, other health-care workers and the general public to be vaccinated against communicable diseases as a preventive measure and in accordance with the most recent scientific evidence,” the statement reads.

“Vaccination provides an important layer of protection against many communicable diseases and BCNU believes that education is the most appropriate means of achieving high vaccination rates for nurses, other health-care workers and the general public. Like any medical treatment or procedure, each individual must have the opportunity to inform themselves of the potential risks and benefits of immunization, based on their understanding of the evidence and in discussion with their family physician or other care provider.

“Employers should work with nurses and other health-care workers on developing supportive vaccination policies to achieve high vaccination rates in the health-care workforce. Evidence shows that punitive or coercive vaccination policies in workplaces can create conflict, damage trust and may unintentionally heighten vaccine hesitancy by feeding into false narratives on vaccine safety.”