Health minister denies backing off promised vaccine mandate for B.C. health professionals

B.C.’s health minister is denying that the province is backing away from a long-promised COVID-19 vaccine mandate for regulated health professionals.

Adrian Dix spoke to reporters Tuesday following the release of a new public health order that requires professional colleges to collect information about the vaccination status of registrants in all regulated health professions, including everyone from doctors and dentists to chiropractors and massage therapists.

That order is strikingly different from the one promised by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, who had said all regulated health professionals would require at least one dose of vaccine by March 24.

But Dix said the public shouldn’t draw any conclusions from the change.

“This is a necessary step to gain access to the information around vaccination. It was always required whatever course the provincial health office takes,” he said of the information-gathering order.

The order states that colleges must verify the vaccination status of every registrant by March 31, and be prepared to disclose that information to the B.C. government upon request.

It does not state that regulated health professionals will need to be vaccinated to continue practising, a measure Henry first pledged in October.

When asked if or when vaccination will ever be mandated for regulated health professionals Dix said, “It’s my strong view that everyone in health care should get vaccinated.”

However, he also promised to provide more information during a news conference on Thursday.

A spokesperson for the ministry reiterated in an email to CBC that the latest order is just the “next step” in making vaccination mandatory. However, they did not respond to questions about whether health professional colleges actually have the legal power to enforce such a mandate.

Mandate opponents still not happy

The months-old pledge of a vaccine mandate has been a major source of contention within certain professions. 

A number of B.C. colleges have received lengthy but legally dubious “notices of liability” from some of their registrants alleging board members will be held “personally liable” if vaccination against COVID-19 becomes a requirement for licensing. 

While the new order does not include a vaccine mandate, some advocacy groups that have fought against mandates are still unhappy. 

The Chiropractic Defense Council, an American non-profit created “to defend the rights of chiropractors,” has previously promised to take legal action against a mandate in B.C. and has solicited funding to support its efforts. 

Now that a mandate has been pushed back indefinitely, the group is asking for support to fight the latest public health order, posting on Facebook Tuesday that collecting vaccination status information is “a dystopian nightmare.”

COVID-19 vaccination is already required for health-care workers employed in hospitals, long-term care homes and community health centres, but not for those working in private practice.

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