Social workers, sheriffs and administrative assistants are among an estimated 30,000 government employees in British Columbia who will have to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 or risk losing their job.

The BC Public Service Agency said Tuesday that a deadline of Nov. 22 has been set for workers in core government services or ministries to show proof of being fully vaccinated using the BC Vaccine card.

Paul Finch, treasurer of the British Columbia General Employees Union, said he has been supportive of vaccines but wants to see the full policy to get an understanding of how exemptions and accommodations will be handled.

"We've been strongly advocating for robust health measures. We campaigned and asked for a mask mandate and got that," he said, adding members want all workers to wear masks, not just those who are working with the public.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there will be consequences for workers in B.C.'s long-term care and assisted-living facilities if they decide not to get vaccinated, with the first deadline for them set for next week under a previously announced policy.

"People who are ineligible to work after Oct. 12 because they have not yet received at least one dose will be off work, as of that day, without pay," she said. "If you do then decide to get your first dose it will be seven days before you're able to work, with additional precautions."

Workers must get their second dose 35 days after the first shot, Henry said.

Anyone hired in the high-risk facilities after Oct. 25 will need to be fully vaccinated and official medical exemptions will be needed for those who are not immunized, Henry said.

"We know that vaccination rates are high, but in some places they are not yet high enough."

Public service employees in British Columbia must get vaccinated against COVID-19. #BCPoli #COVID19 #Covid19vaccine

Health Minister Adrian Dix said health authorities are reporting that up to 94 per cent of long-term care and assisted living workers have received both doses of a vaccine, as in the case of those employed in Vancouver Coastal Health. But that number is only 79 per cent in the Northern Health region, from which 26 patients with COVID-19 have been transferred to intensive care units elsewhere in the province. All of them were unvaccinated, he added.

Nearly 82 per cent of eligible British Columbians aged 12 and up have had both doses of a vaccine, the province said Tuesday. It reported 593 new cases of COVID-19 and said those who were not fully vaccinated accounted for 78 per cent of hospitalizations in the last couple of weeks. There were no new deaths.

Henry also updated a policy for visitors to long-term care facilities on Tuesday, saying they must be vaccinated as of Oct. 12. Those entering acute-care settings are required to have both doses by Oct. 26, in line with a vaccination order for employees there.

She called on B.C. residents to gather in small groups over Thanksgiving and to be particularly mindful of older family members and those who are immunocompromised.

The province began providing booster shots to seniors in long-term care facilities this week and is now preparing to administer third doses to another 100,000 people, including those who are severely and moderately immunocompromised. People who are on dialysis or have severe kidney or renal disease will also be notified about when they can expect to receive their third shot.

Henry said information on booster shots for others, including First Nations, people over age 60 and health-care workers who were vaccinated early, is expected to be provided by the end of the month after continuing consultation with a national advisory panel on vaccination.

She said the decision of some mayors in the Northern Health region to promote vaccination as a personal choice could have further negative outcomes in the area, where intensive care units have been overwhelmed.

"Choice is one thing, but choice has consequences. And when those choices you make are having effects on the rest of the community, then that has implications and you are restricted from doing certain things. And that's the point of the BC Vaccine card."

— By Camille Bains in Vancouver

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 5, 2021.

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