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Calls grow to mandate COVID-19 vaccines for Canadian health care workers

Last Updated Jul 13, 2021 at 7:13 am PDT

A health-care worker prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a UHN COVID-19 vaccine clinic in Toronto on Thursday, January 7, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette

France and Greece are two of the latest European countries to make COVID-19 vaccines mandatory for health care workers

Op-ed in Annals of Internal Medicine supports idea of mandating vaccines for health care workers

'Long past time for this in Canada,' says expert on mandating vaccines for health care workers in Canada

A growing number of countries are making COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for health care workers, and some are wondering why that’s not the case in Canada.

France and Greece are two of the latest European countries to bring in rules that will ensure all health and long-term care workers are vaccinated, or otherwise face penalties.

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious diseases expert out of Toronto General Hospital, took to social media on Monday night saying that the new rules in those two countries make sense.

“You can’t put the most vulnerable at risk,” said Bogoch in a tweet.

Dr. David Fisman, professor of epidemiology at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, also tweeted his support for the policy.

“Long past time for this in Canada,” said Fisman. “There’s no reason for (health care workers) to remain unvaccinated.”

“If you’ve signed up to care for people, you can’t also voluntarily serve as a COVID-vector.”

An op-ed published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine supports the idea of mandating vaccines for health care workers.

The doctors behind the piece argue that the case for making COVID-19 vaccines mandatory is much greater than the case for mandatory influenza vaccines. The morbidity and mortality rate of COVID-19 significantly exceeds that of the flu, and COVID-19 vaccines are much more effect than the flu shot.

“We believe that there is an extra onus on health care workers to protect themselves from (COVID-19) in order to protect patients,” reads the article.

“Health care workers routinely tend to the elderly, ill, and vulnerable, in whom infection is more likely to be deadly. We cannot rely on patients being vaccinated to prevent nosocomial transmission because some patients cannot get the vaccine, some will decline, and vaccine may not be effective in immunocompromised patients.”

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In Ontario, the provincial government has semi-required long-term care workers to get vaccinated. Workers don’t need to get a jab if they have a documented medical reason – they can also opt to take an educational course on vaccines, which would allow them to continue to work without having received a shot.

B.C. has previously said it was considering a mandate, however, no such order has been given. On July 8, the province announced further easing of restrictions at long-term care facilities, saying masks will not be required for fully-vaccinated visitors, and that unvaccinated staff members will still have to wear masks.

“We are taking measures to ensure that that health care workers, particularly in long-term care are either immunized or continue to take the infection control precautions that are in place right now, as well as additional testing that will be required for any non-vaccinated staff,” Dr. Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s top doctor, said.

Some hospitals – including some in Ontario – began mandating flu shots for health care workers nearly 15 years ago. Some health care worker unions have fought the influenza vaccine mandate.

France mandates vaccines for health care workers

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday ordered all French health care workers to get virus vaccine shots by Sept. 15. Those who don’t get vaccinated by that date will face potential sanctions or fines, he said.

The new measures are the latest attempt of the country to get ahead of a surging Delta variant that has set off another wave of the pandemic in the U.K.

“The equation is simple. The more we vaccinate, the less space we leave this virus to circulate,” said Macron.

Greece announced Monday that health care workers will be suspended if they refuse to get vaccinated.

Italy was among the first countries to make a similar policy in April. Workers in that country face a transfer off of the frontlines or suspension without pay of they do not comply.

There are some ongoing constitutional challenges to the rules in Europe but none have stuck as of yet.

-With files from The Associated Press