Quebec decision to delay mandatory vaccination sign of tough decisions for provinces

Other provinces will face challenges similar to Quebec’s as they attempt to implement vaccine mandates for health-care workers, a health policy expert said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé postponed by a month a requirement for health-care workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19, saying it would have been “irresponsible” to suspend thousands of unvaccinated workers at a time when the health-care system is already fragile.

“I think that every health-care system in Canada is in a similar situation to what Quebec is in, because of the system actually operating far above its normal capacity at this point in time,” John Church, a professor at the University of Alberta who studies health policy, said in an interview Thursday.

In Alberta, employees of the province’s single health authority must be fully immunized against COVID-19 by the end of the month.

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Read more: Health-care staff shortages could be on the way as COVID-19 vaccine mandates loom

Like in Quebec, where only four per cent of health-care workers are not fully vaccinated, even a small reduction in the number of health-care workers able to practice would have a big impact, Church said.

“Under normal circumstances, the system would be able to adjust to that, but we are in extraordinary circumstances,” he said, adding that military nurses have been deployed in the western province and intensive care units are at nearly double their normal capacity. “Every single health-care worker, under these circumstances matters,” he said.

Dr. Katharine Smart, the president of the Canadian Medical Association, said the difficult situation Quebec found itself in is the result of larger systemic problems that predate the pandemic.

“What’s happened in Quebec is really highlighting the legacy of underfunding and under-planning in the system that has left them with no wiggle room,” she said in an interview Thursday. Canada faced a shortage of nurses and other health-care professionals before the pandemic, she said, which has only grown worse.

Still, Smart said she hopes governments in other provinces that have said they will introduce vaccine mandates will not delay, adding that she sees vaccination as the path out of the pandemic.

“We strongly support them keeping the mandate,” she said. “We’ve been calling for mandatory vaccines for health-care workers now since August. We feel that it’s our moral and ethical responsibilities as health-care professionals to be vaccinated.”

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Read more: Quebec’s daily COVID-19 caseload tops 640, 2 new deaths reported

Quebec reported 644 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday and two more deaths attributed to the novel coronavirus. COVID-19-related hospitalizations remained unchanged from the day before, at 298, and 76 people were in intensive care, an increase of one.

Quebec’s public health institute said 90 per cent of residents 12 and up have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and 86.8 per cent are considered adequately vaccinated.

Earlier Thursday, the government said it is expanding a bonus system to attract and retain full-time nurses. Previously available only to nurses in the public system, the one-time $15,000 bonus will now be given to nurses willing to work full time in private long-term care centres, including new hires. Full-time nurses in private seniors residences will receive $7,500.

The Health Department said Wednesday that since the bonuses were introduced Sept. 23, 1,347 nurses in the public system have agreed to switch from part-time to full-time, 351 nurses have been hired by public health authorities and 58 have returned from retirement.

© 2021 The Canadian Press

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