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Today is a monumental day for British Columbia’s healthcare system.
Across the province, nearly 6,000 healthcare workers are being fired or suspended without pay for refusing to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Around 1,800 of them are long-term care or acute care workers who were suspended without pay on Oct. 12 and had two weeks to get their first dose before their employment was terminated.
They have now been laid off without any kind of severance.
The rest are employees of the broader healthcare system, who had until today to get their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Anyone who has yet to do that will be suspended without pay and will have their employment terminated as well if they do not get a first shot by Nov. 15.
If they do get their first vaccination before that date, they will be able to resume working seven days after their shot, with extra protective measures in place until they are fully vaccinated.
Health Minister Adrian Dix provided a breakdown on how many of the province’s 126,343 general healthcare workers remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated.
He expects these numbers to change in the coming days as more data becomes available:
Dix called it a “significant and solemn day,” but said that the requirement to get vaccinated “is an absolute necessity in our healthcare system.”
“We know the impact on people and on families and we are hopeful that people will still take the opportunity to get vaccinated…and will be able to return to work.”
Dix said the impacts will be seen throughout BC, with areas like diagnostic imaging or labs being hit harder, and this is something that the Ministry of Health has been preparing for.
Interior Health, which has the highest rate of unvaccinated healthcare workers, could see some surgeries postponed in the coming days, but the minister said adjustments will be made to deal with that and support the regions that need it.
BC’s top doctor, Dr. Bonnie Henry echoed those comments from Dix and said that health officials will be looking at other areas of the system to supplement areas of the Interior where there are shortages on a temporary basis.
“It is so disruptive and detrimental to care when we have outbreaks in hospitals as we have a couple in the Interior right now,” she explained. “That is the reason why we have this vaccine mandate in place.”
BC has 9,229 base beds in its healthcare system and 8,817 are currently filled, with 410 of 2,553 surge beds currently being used as well.
In critical care, 440 of 510 base beds are currently occupied, as are 25 of 218 surge beds.
Dix said “we are exceptionally busy,” and that these numbers reflect all the actions being used to manage the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the healthcare system.
That includes the 67 people in critical care that have been transferred out of Northern Health, mostly to Vancouver Island, and base bed capacity being over 100% in Interior Health at the moment.
The health minister added that it continues to be unvaccinated COVID-19 patients that make up the majority of people in critical care due to the virus.
At this time, 133 of 155 people in critical care due to COVID-19 are unvaccinated, which includes 42 of 43 people under the age of 50.