Thursday, November 04, 2021

Quebec and Ontario blink before anti-vaxxers

Quebec has just backtracked shamefully on its initial vaccine mandate for healthcare workers, and Ontario hasn't even bothered trying.

Quebec did have a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for hospital and other healthcare workers, but it first extended its deadline, and then abandoned it completely when it judged that too many workers were still not vaccinated, and that the province faced potential shortages of medical staff if the policy were to be followed through.

Ontario had been mulling the idea of a vaccine mandate for healthcare workers for some time, but it too ultimately decided against it - in spite of the explicit advice of all major healthcare organizations and advisors - due to the "potential departure of tens of thousands of healthcare workers" (an unsupported claim). So much for "following the science"! Many hospitals have their own vaccine mandates, and some have had to lay off anti-vaxxers, but at least this can't be pinned on the Conservative government!

This is a pusillanimous abdication of responsibility on the part of the Ford government (and the Legault government in Quebec), and gives entirely the wrong message: anti-vaxxers will see this as a resounding victory. These decisions will almost certainly embolden the anti-vaccine mob at a critical time, with child vaccination just around the corner. 

Do you want to go for a hospital procedure and not know whether the doctor treating you, or the nurse helping you recover, is vaccinated or not? Can healthcare workers now refuse to take currently-mandated vaccines like Hep B? Can they choose not to wear a mask or wash their hands? Where does this all end? And, anyway, do we really want healthcare workers who don't believe in vaccines and don't trust the medical establishment. Sounds to me like an ideal time to weed out some proverbial "bad eggs"...

British Columbia, on the other hand, did not blink, and has had to lay off 3,000 healthcare workers who were either unvaccinated or unwilling to disclose their vaccination status (what's that about?). And, guess what, the sky hasn't fallen. It hasn't been easy, but they have coped, and are coping. 

In Quebec, an estimated 8,000 workers were at risk, or around 2.4% of the workforce, including 5,000 who are in direct contact with patients. Not an easy problem, to be sure, but doable. In Ontario, the numbers are less clear (the province is unwilling to release information on holdouts for "privacy" reasons), but certainly less than the "tens of thousands" improbably claimed by Ford and Health Minister Christine Elliot (it is probably in the region of 2-3% too). 

It is also far from likely that worst-case scenarios would pan out, when push comes to shove and well-paid unionized jobs are at stake. When the New York police force was faced with a vaccine mandate, there were dire warning that up to a third of the force would rebel; in the end, just 34 of 35,000 police officers (and 40 of 17,000 civilian employees) gave up their jobs. The City of Toronto has had to suspend just 248 of its 32,000 staff members (much less than 1%) for non-compliance with the City's vaccine mandate.

Yes, it is a complex issue", as Premier Ford says, and a vaccine mandate would almost certainly result in the suspension of some services in the short term and the delay of some operations and other procedures. But complex issues are exactly where he should be guided by the medical establishment, which states unequivocally that healthcare staff should be vaccinated, for their own health and that of their patients. 

Most hospitals in the province are instituting their own vaccine mandates anyway, in the absence of government leadership. The Globe and Mail found that, of over three dozen Ontario hospitals they contacted, only one did not have its own mandatory vaccine rules, and only a handful of staff at each institution are not in compliance with the mandate. 120 of the province's 141 hospitals signed an Ontario Hospital Association letter to the government calling for a province-wide mandate, with several more submitting their own letters in support of it. Minister Elliott's claims that "some" (unidentified) hospitals had expressed "concerns" over a vaccine mandate rings pretty hollow.

Both provinces now find themselves in the embarrassing position of airlines and schools taking a harder line than the government on the issue, and of relying on individual hospitals and health authorities taking responsibility for vaccine mandates because the government did not have the cojones to follow the recommendations of its owns expert advisors. Does the fact that there is a provincial election on the horizon in Ontario play into this? I imagine that Premier Ford does not want to be seen by his conservative base to be forcing through a liberal agenda. 

Does "doing the right thing" even matter any more? Anti-vaxxers 2, provinces 0.

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