Jab mandates loom for Canada health staff

·2-min read

Canada's health and long-term care industries are bracing for staff shortages and lay-offs as deadlines for vaccine mandates loom across the country, with unions pushing federal and provincial governments to soften hard-line stances.

For hospitals and nursing homes, a shortage of workers would strain the already overburdened workforce dealing with nearly two years of the pandemic.

The uncertainty sparked by vaccine mandates underscores the challenges on the road to recovery.

Devon Greyson, assistant professor of public health at the University of British Columbia, said officials are steering into uncharted waters with mass vaccine mandates and it is not clear how workers will respond.

"A shortage of workers can mean people's health and well being. It's scary," Greyson said.

However, he added, "we're in an ethical situation where it's also scary not to ensure that all health workers are vaccinated. So it's a bit of a Catch-22".

To tackle staff scarcity, at least one province is offering signing bonuses to nurses.

Provinces including Quebec and British Columbia have made it mandatory for healthcare workers and nursing staff to be vaccinated to continue working in their respective fields.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also unveiled one of the strictest vaccine mandates in the world last week, saying unvaccinated federal employees will be sent on unpaid leave and making COVID-19 shots mandatory for air, train and ship passengers.

Lay-offs have started to hit, with one hospital in southern Ontario last week dumping 57 employees, representing 2.5 per cent of staff, after its vaccine mandate came into effect.

A long-term care home in Toronto put 36 per cent of its staff on unpaid leave after they refused to get vaccinated, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp reported.

British Columbia will place staff at its long-term care and assisted living sector on unpaid administrative leave if they fail to get at least one shot by Monday.

About 97 per cent of long-term care staff in Vancouver and the surrounding areas have at least one dose as of October 6, the province said.

But northern BC has only 89 per cent of staff with at least one dose, although the data was still being updated.

The province recently changed the deadline, giving more time for people to receive their second vaccine dose.

"It is because we know we have a very limited healthcare resource," Dr Bonnie Henry, the province's medical officer, said.

Quebec is offering C$15,000 ($A16,445) bonuses to help attract and retain about 4300 full-time nurses.

About 25,000 healthcare workers who are yet not fully vaccinated ahead of an October 15 deadline risk suspension without pay, the province's health minister Christian Dube said.

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