Few Anti-vax paramedics

Anti-vaccine paramedics unlikely to get much help from their union

BC paramedics refusing to get vaccinated aren’t getting a lot of sympathy from their union.

“We have taken a position right from when vaccination first came out that we support vaccinations. We in fact lobbied, worked with and were identified early in the first rollout of vaccinations as a priority group because of the nature of our work, said Troy Clifford, president of the Ambulance Paramedics of BC (CUPE-873).

Clifford points out they are an evidence-based profession that supports science and the union has taken a position that now is not the time to deviate from those principles.

“We support our members’ right to choose, but with every choice comes a consequence. And we are a healthcare profession, and we have a duty to do everything we can from a professional perspective and employment perspective to protect the public, our patients, other paramedics and other healthcare workers,”

As of October 26, 2021 healthcare workers in B.C. were required to be immunized against COVID-19, including those working for BC Emergency Health Services.

Clifford notes that leading up to that date, just under 200 members were either unvaccinated or had not reported. He adds that BC Emergency Health Services was working to determine what the situation was for each of those workers.

He doesn’t have a breakdown of how many are in Interior Health but suspects the numbers reflect the overall picture for healthcare workers in the region.

The province said Wednesday there are 3,117 unvaccinated healthcare workers in B.C.

“Any time we lose even one paramedic for choices like this it impacts our staffing for sure,” said Clifford.

He’s not aware of any significant impact but acknowledges some pockets around the province have been affected.

However, he’s not aware any communities are without service because of paramedics refusing to be vaccinated.

“Obviously, there are communities without paramedics because we don’t have enough staff,” explained Clifford. “It’s ongoing staffing challenges.”

Castanet reached out to BC Emergency Health Services for details on exactly how many paramedics are not vaccinated in Interior Health.

BCEHS said an update on vaccine rates among healthcare workers will be provided Thursday during a provincial briefing. It is working closely with the Province to monitor and address any potential impacts through contingency plans.

BCEHS is also hiring significantly more staff overall, including 30 new dispatchers and 85 new paramedics, all of who have been recruited and whose positions are expected to begin in November 2021.

Clifford added that there is not a lot the union can do for members who refuse to comply with the vaccine mandate.

“We’re representing members. We’ll follow through with processes and any individual cases if they have medical exemptions that have gone through the proper channels. But it’s been made very clear that this is a condition of employment, which is a fairly long-established rule of law in labour law and it’s not giving us a lot of options.”