Even though British Columbia has dropped most COVID-19 safety measures, provincial-health officials are pushing ahead to require all regulated health professionals to disclose their vaccination status to their respective regulating bodies.
Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry said this month that she wants to offer patients some comfort on how to make choices about the medical professionals they see in the community. But information on individual practitioners will not be available to potential patients.
Instead, the Ministry of Health confirmed that vaccination information will only be available as an aggregated rate for each profession.
That represents a change from Dr. Henry’s original plan, announced last October, that all health care professionals would be required to be vaccinated in order to practise. That includes dentists, chiropractors and naturopaths.
The previous plan was to bar unvaccinated members of 18 health professional regulating bodies, or colleges, from continuing their jobs as of March 24. The updated order required them to submit their vaccination status by the end of March. The colleges are now assembling the data.
The Office of the Provincial Health Officer, or PHO, “is taking steps to support people in B.C. to make informed decisions about their own care with respect to whether or not to see an unvaccinated health provider in private practice in the community,” the ministry said in a statement.
“The purposes of this PHO order are to determine the level of vaccination in each health profession as a whole and to understand the distribution of vaccination in health professionals across the province.”
The original plan to require all health professionals to be vaccinated encountered resistance from some groups.
At the annual general meeting of the College of Chiropractors of B.C., or CCBC, in December, the practitioners who attended voted in favour of a motion that opposed mandatory vaccination for the province’s more than 1,300 chiropractors.
It calls on the self-regulated college to “take a stand to protect and maintain the right to medical freedom of choice for all health/medical interventions for B.C. registrant chiropractic doctors.” It says CCBC registrants and chiropractic patients maintain the right to choose medical privacy.
The passage of the motion prompted the B.C. Chiropractic Association, a voluntary group that represents 85 per cent of the province’s chiropractors, to issue a statement calling the episode a “misrepresentation of facts concerning the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine.”
The association said only 15 per cent of registrants were present at the meeting.
The chiropractic college declined to comment on the new order. Other regulators, including the College Of Naturopathic Physicians of B.C. and the College of Dental Technicians of B.C., said they are not in a position to speak to personal opinions held by registrants on this topic, but the latter made it clear on its website that even registrants who provide only telehealth, virtual or remote services need to comply with the order.
This order does not affect the requirement, issued last fall, for health professionals working in residential care, acute care and community care settings to be vaccinated.
According to the Ministry of Health, approximately 2,582 employees in public-health care settings have been terminated because of non-compliance with the mandate. It includes 927 employees from Interior Health, accounting for about 3.8 per cent of the region’s work force; 474 from Fraser Health, 393 from Island Health and 304 from Northern Health, which suffered a critical nursing shortage during the pandemic.
Some health authorities report they have had more new hires than terminations and others are recruiting health care workers, the ministry said in a statement.
The ministry said in its statement that Dr. Henry will be able to provide statistics on vaccinations by college “soon,” once all the professional bodies have recorded and collated the vaccination status of their registrants and had the opportunity to provide the data reports to the PHO.
Dr. Henry said in her public order, she has the authority to take action if the colleges don’t comply. The ministry did not say what that action might be.
University of British Columbia medical ethicist Judy Illes said she’s fully supportive, from an ethical point of view, on the province’s efforts to gather as much data as possible about vaccinations in all sectors, as long as people’s privacy is protected.
People who are more prone to biomedical approaches to health will find specialties that have higher rates of vaccination, and those who are inclined toward more natural approaches to health and wellness are likely to go to specialists whose college may have lower rates of vaccination, she added.
“I don’t think we’ll see any surprises. But I think what’s important is that we know what the data are, what the vaccination rates are, and every bit of science that we can attribute to this public-health crisis, which still has its grips on us, is valuable,” Dr. Illes said in an interview.
But retired emergency room doctor Lyne Filiatrault described the March order “useless” because patients won’t know whether their practitioner is vaccinated.
“When I go see my doctor, or when I land in the emergency, for any health reason, I want to know that this health provider is not going to infect me,” said Dr. Filiatrault, who’s also a spokesperson for Protect Our Province B.C., a group of health care professionals, scientists and advocates calling for evidence-based policies.
She said the policy should remain consistent for all health professionals, no matter in public or private systems.
Dr. Illes said every individual in the public has the right to ask a health provider about their vaccination status, and the health provider has the right to answer or decline to answer.
We have a weekly Western Canada newsletter written by our B.C. and Alberta bureau chiefs, providing a comprehensive package of the news you need to know about the region and its place in the issues facing Canada. Sign up today.