Despite repeated claims that the Oct. 15 deadline would not be pushed back, Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé announced Wednesday he is giving health-care workers 30 more days to get their two vaccine doses.
Admitting that losing thousands of workers due to the vaccine mandate will cause Quebec to “run into a wall,” the minister said workers in the health-care network will now have until Nov. 15 to get their two shots to avoid being suspended without pay.
In the meantime, workers in the public system who aren’t vaccinated and have direct contact with patients will have to be tested for COVID-19 three times per week before their shifts, beginning on Monday. The measure could be extended to the private network, too, according to the health minister.
“Giving yourself a 30-day deadline is, therefore, reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances,” Dubé said at a news conference Wednesday morning in Montreal, noting that the decision to postpone the deadline was a “difficult” one.
“And I have a last message for health-care workers who are not vaccinated yet: we are reaching out to you, and we sincerely hope that you will take this offer,” he said.
“Please do it for yourself, for your loved ones. Otherwise, please do it for your colleagues, because they really need you.”
Dubé also announced that all new hires in the health-care workers will have to be fully vaccinated, and reminded the public that caregivers and visitors must show their vaccine passport when entering a health-care facility. The policy does not apply to patients.
The Legault government had announced the vaccine mandate back in September as a warning to all health and social services workers to get immunized by Oct. 15, but on Wednesday the health minister acknowledged that the goal was unattainable.
About 96 per cent of health workers in Quebec have received one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, the health minister said, but still there are approximately 22,000 workers who are not adequately vaccinated.
“We want to give the unvaccinated staff extra time to collect their dose, but I want to be clear: we will apply the mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers, but postponing the 30-day deadline is the best solution,” he said, adding that he understands not everyone makes the decision to get vaccinated at the same speed.
Just yesterday in Gatineau, Dubé told a press scrum “there will be no change” to the Friday deadline, standing firm on the government’s plans to enforce the sweeping vaccine mandate.
CRITICAL CARE WOULD HAVE CONTINUED, PROVINCE SAYS
Had the province gone ahead with its orignal deadline, there would have been a “considerable reduction” in healthcare in Quebec, according to the associate deputy health minister Dr. Lucie Opatrny.
The regional health boards conducted an analysis to determine where in the system were there unvaccinated workers and what the impact could have been. Dr. Opatrny said workers would have had to be shifted around to accomodate the loss of workers. Critical care, however, would have been maintained.
“Critical, and important, and urgent [care] would have still continued, because those plans had been worked on for weeks. So, it wouldn’t have been a breakdown, but it would have been an important stress and an important reduction of services.”
The delay comes one day after a Montreal lawyer filed an an emergency injunction in Superior Court contesting the validity of the government decree. The court challenge argued that routine COVID-testing is a better alternative to curbing the spread of the virus in the health-care network than mandatory vaccination.
Natalia Manole, who is representing more than 100 health-care workers in court, confirmed to CTV News she intends to proceed with the legal challenge and will ask the court to declare the vaccine mandate invalid under the law.
Dubé did not address the court case during Wednesday’s news conference, but said one of his top priorities is to maintain a safe environment for people who work in and visit health-care settings.
“If they [workers] are not vaccinated, I need to have something else,” he said, adding that “it’s wiser to get the vaccine as opposed to being tested three times a week.”
UNION APPLAUDS POSTPONEMENT OF VACCINE MANDATE
At least one union said it is pleased with the deicion taken by the government.
The Fédération de la Santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ), which represents 5,000 nurses, respiratory therapists, and nursing assistants, said it had recommended pushing back the deadline during a public meeting last week. The president of the FSQ, Claire Montour, said the union is pro-vaccine and has advised all of its members to get their shots, but that the Oct. 15 deadline was not realistic.
“As he acknowledged, the minister simply had no choice, given the fragile state of the network, to make this responsible decision,” said Montour said in a statement.
“Christian Dubé seems to have listened to the message sent by the health-care unions last week. We now encourage all our members to take advantage of this additional time to complete their vaccination.”