After weeks of tough talk on mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for health workers, Quebec blinked.
The province has moved the deadline for all healthcare workers to receive their shots from October 15 to November 15.
It is an insult to the patient’s safety and the workers working hard to end the pandemic and protect the public.
It will also encourage anti-vaxxers, which is the last thing we need to do at a time when COVID-19 has become a pandemic of the unvaccinated.
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Quebec’s Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubey said he took the step reluctantly, because he feared dangerous staff shortages and the delay was necessary to “protect the network”.
Yes, there are a lot of illiterate workers in the health system, about 21,900 out of 33,000 in Quebec. This is a problem in other provinces as well.
Suspending them – if it really did come to this – would undoubtedly lead to chaos, at least in the short term. Mr Dubey said on Tuesday that the “risk is very high” for patients and other staff.
But the risk is just as, if not greater, than urging workers to get vaccinated right now.
Certainly the threat of large-scale labor shortage is appalling. But, when it comes to pushing, how many would actually leave well-paying, unionized jobs to make a point? (And who knows what the uneducated are really thinking? It’s doubtful that the theory has much to do with it.)
Evidence from other jurisdictions is that most health workers will get vaccinated if you coerce. And that’s exactly what Quebec (and other provinces) should do.
There was no reason to skip Friday’s deadline.
To do so is tantamount to taking prisoners asylum. This is an even more risky policy both in the short and long term.
It sends a message that vaccination is not that important – and it is indeed paramount, especially in a health care setting, which is populated by the most vulnerable members of society.
This gives pedestrians more time to spread the virus between patients and fellow staff. Outbreaks that are re-emerging, especially in long-term care, are concerning and are certainly the cause of staff shortages.
What message is the province giving to patients when it says it’s okay for some workers to stick their noses up on health and safety measures?
When you give out hall passes to irresponsible, unethical, skeptical or just plain lazy people, what kind of message are you sending to the 96 percent of workers who have done responsible, ethical work and have been vaccinated?
What will happen next? Would it be a “personal choice” for nurses and doctors to wash their hands or wear gloves during surgery? And why not let the workers smoke in the hospital?
How dare we violate the “freedom” of patients in the name of their safety?
The reality is that healthcare workers must meet all kinds of basic standards, from educational pre-requisites to health and safety requirements, to mandatory vaccinations (and COVID-19 isn’t the only one) in order to do their jobs. )
We don’t give passes to people because they find such policies inconvenient or they don’t like the rules.
All that Mr. Dubey has done is surrender to a large minority and further delay the date of a necessary and long-overdue ultimatum: choose between a jab and his job.
Staff shortages have been a chronic problem in the health system for years, which governments have failed to address properly. The vaccine mandate is just another small element – a serious problem if you wish. And when treating a patient with a chronic illness, you don’t ignore a serious problem because it’s problematic, or can trigger unpleasant side effects.
The same goes for the health system.
You don’t drop the can down the road and risk things going bad. You deal with it now.
“I have a responsibility to protect the health care network,” Mr Dubey said.
He is absolutely right. But the job is not just to protect the system in the short term. This is to protect patients and workers in the long run.
The best way to do this right now is to immediately implement a vaccine mandate.
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