Public health order does not require B.C. doctors to be vaccinated despite ‘health hazards’

A month after B.C.’s top doctor announced all health-care workers would have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by late March, the wording of her latest order does not spell out a mandate – and one college is telling members they aren’t required to get the shot.

Late Monday, Dr. Bonnie Henry’s office posted a 17-page order requiring doctors, dentists, nurses and other health-care providers to report their vaccines status to their professional college, but it does not mandate the shot in order to work, nor does it lay out the consequences for not being immunized against the virus.

Tuesday morning, the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. notified their members of the order and in a “frequently asked questions” post related to the order, clarified that it doesn’t require them to be vaccinated.

“This Order requires the college to record the COVID-19 vaccination status of all registrants, but it does not impose a COVID-19 vaccination requirement,” it reads. “Please note that separate public health orders remain in place requiring COVID-19 vaccination for health professionals working in residential care, acute care and community care settings.”

CTV News made several attempts to speak with the provincial health officer on the order before and after it was posted, but has not received clarification or an interview.

ORDER EMPHASIZES RISKS AND BENEFITS, NOT REQUIREMENTS 

When she announced the vaccine mandate a month ago, Henry described months’ worth of work to sort out details with the colleges on how to implement the vaccine mandate for health-care providers who weren’t directly employed by government.

The order itself goes into great detail to explain and reiterate that COVID-19 vaccines safe, effective and the best tool to minimize transmission and incidence of serious illness from the virus, noting that unvaccinated people are more likely to get sick, with a significantly higher chance of needing hospitalization. It also quashes the dominant argument from physicians who refuse to be vaccinated: that they have immunity from a previous infection with the coronavirus.

“While people who have contracted SARS-CoV-2 may develop some natural immunity for a period of time following infection, the strength and duration of that immunity varies depending on a multitude of factors, including which variant they were infected with and severity of infection,” writes Henry in the order, noting the risk to patients. “Health professionals pose a risk of transmission of virus to the public as they provide services to populations of the public who, due to age or underlying health status and despite vaccination status of the patient, are likely to be vulnerable to infection with COVID-19.”

Henry says unvaccinated medical providers therefore constitute “a health hazard under the Public Health Act.”

UNVACCINATED DOCTORS TRY TO RALLY PATIENT SUPPORT

CTV News has obtained several letters sent by unvaccinated doctors to patients in recent days, warning them that they’ll be without a family physician after March 24 due to the mandate. Most of them cite natural immunity, claims of inability to be vaccinated, or concerns about what they describe as insufficient data for refusing to be immunized against COVID-19.

“IF YOU ARE DISSATISFIED WITH THIS, you must enable your voice to be heard immediately,” wrote one North Vancouver physician, Dr. Sofia Bayfield, to her patients. “Your elected officials must know what is going on. PHO decisions have been changed when people spoke up.”

Vancouver’s Dr. Dorle Kneifel told patients she was taking a break from her practice whether the mandate was revoked or not. “I encourage us all to reflect on which values we wish to live and see implemented in our culture,” she wrote.

The Doctors of BC said in September that at the time, 97 per cent of doctors in the province were already vaccinated, so it’s unclear how many remain unvaccinated.

But with hundreds of thousands of people without a primary care physician and doctors walking away from the profession due to a variety of factors, some patients are pleading for the government to let them decide whether or not to seek care based on a doctor’s vaccination status.

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