Tens of thousands of Quebec health-care workers still unvaccinated as mandatory policy nears

The Quebec government says it is confident a “large majority” of health-care workers will comply with its mandatory vaccination policy, even if tens of thousands still haven’t gotten a jab.

Roughly 30,000 staff in the private health system and 25,800 in the public system remain unvaccinated, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on Wednesday.

Among the public sector, 92 per cent of workers have received one dose and 88 per cent have received two. The Health Ministry did not provide a breakdown for workers in the private sector.

The statement noted an additional one per cent of workers — which represents more than 3,000 people — had sought out a first dose since hearings about mandatory vaccinations were held at the National Assembly in late August.

“We are confident that a large majority of employees will make an appointment to be adequately protected,” said Health Ministry spokesperson Noémie Vanheuverzwijn.

“It is the government’s responsibility to take all necessary means to protect the network’s capacity for essential care.”

Premier François Legault announced the mandatory vaccination policy Tuesday, saying anyone not adequately vaccinated by Oct. 15 will be suspended without pay.

The policy is the province’s latest attempt to tame COVID-19 without imposing more restrictions on the public, with the announcement coming just over a week after the implementation of the vaccine passport.

Public health experts have long called for mandatory vaccination among health-care workers, given the risk involved if there’s an outbreak among vulnerable patients.

Unions worry staffing shortages will get worse

Unions representing health-care workers said Wednesday they understand the importance of vaccines in controlling the pandemic, but worry making it mandatory could exacerbate chronic staffing shortages.

“If you don’t plan, and you send people home, the work will be on the others who are still staying,” said Josée Fréchette, vice-president of a union representing the majority of health professionals and technicians in Quebec.

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In Quebec City, another union president, Nancy Hogan, said the university hospital network in the city is in a crisis.

“We are missing people. We are forcing overtime. Every day, we are in a contingency plan — fewer nurses, more patients,” she said. “We see departures every day, workers who quit due to pressure and being overworked.”

Cédric Thivierge, a nurse in Thetford Mines, northeast of Montreal, is among those opposed to the mandatory vaccination policy.

Thivierge, who has been on the job since 2012, said he isn’t ready to get vaccinated.

“I’m going to be leaving colleagues, my team and my family in this difficult period,” he said. “I will have the feeling I’m abandoning them.”

Premier looks for solutions

On Tuesday, Legault acknowledged the province’s shortage of nurses and other health-care staff remains a major challenge, as the province faces a fourth wave of the pandemic.

While hospitalizations may not be as high as early on in the pandemic, they are already straining the system because of a lack of personnel, Legault said.

He said the government is trying to come up with ways to convince people who have left the profession to come back, by potentially introducing incentives, including increasing pay and improving working conditions.

He also called on federal leaders to make increasing health transfers a priority in the election campaign.

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