Planned vaccine mandate for some BC health workers replaced with ‘informed consent’ system

The BC government has scrapped plans to expand the province’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate to all health-care workers in private practice – but will be adopting an “informed consent” system for patients who want to avoid unvaccinated service providers.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the changes on Thursday, two weeks before the vaccination requirement for family doctors, dentists, chiropractors and a host of other regulated health professionals was scheduled to take effect.

“This is different from our original vision,” Henry said.

“We’re taking a more nuanced, risk-based approach. For some, that will mean that you must be vaccinated to practice in certain settings, but we’re doing that on a more tailored basis to each of the regulated health professions. “

Instead, some health-care workers’ vaccination status will be disclosed to their patients or clients – allowing them to decide whether to take their business elsewhere – though officials have not provided any details on how that system will work.

Henry said there may be “additional measures” applied to some professions as well, depending on the assessed risk of their field.

The government’s original plan was to bar unvaccinated members of 18 health professional colleges from continuing their jobs as of March 24, including nurses, midwives, dental hygienists, optometrists, physical therapists, psychologists, and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine.

Instead, officials posted an order Monday evening requiring them to submit their vaccination status to the colleges by the end of March.

Henry provided little explanation for the dramatically different approach Thursday, but pointed to “the situation that we’re in right now” with COVID-19 transmission and hospital admissions on the decline.

She also noted that the province’s first shipments of the protein subunit vaccine Novavax, which was considered a potentially appealing option for some health workers who didn’t want to take either of the mRNA vaccines, have been delayed.

“We had expected it to be in the province by last week,” Henry said. “Now we might not receive it until either the third or last week of March, and I think that’s an important consideration.”

Novavax doses will also be offered to unvaccinated health-care workers who were forced off the job last fall and may be eager to return.

The province’s existing mandate requires all staff and volunteers at public health-care facilities such as hospitals and clinics to be vaccinated against COVID-19, along with anyone who works in community care settings.

It’s unclear whether that mandate will be made permanent, but Henry suggested it will remain in place for some time.

“It is an important measure that ensures we have a continued high level of immunity in our health-care sector as we go through this transition phase and prepare for what comes next,” she said. “Because this virus is still with us.”

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