Health care workers were previously given until Oct. 15 to receive a COVID-19 vaccine or face suspension without pay.
Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé said that the Quebec government made the “difficult decision” to extend the vaccination deadline amid an urgent staffing shortage. He said if the provincial government enforced the Oct. 15 mandate, they risked the potential loss of 25,000 health care workers who are not fully vaccinated.
“We find ourselves adding undue pressure on our network, and especially on the vaccinated health workers who have been at the front for months,” Dubé said in a press conference on Oct. 13.
“If we continue like this, we will run into a wall.”
Dubé also said that starting Oct. 18, workers who are not fully vaccinated must receive at least three COVID-19 screening tests per week. This measure has already been enforced in public facilities, but will now be extended to private networks.
All new hires in the public health network will have to be adequately vaccinated, Dubé said. The government will also maintain the requirement for visitors and caregivers to show a vaccine passport before entering hospitals.
Dubé said there will be financial consequences for unvaccinated workers.
Nurses who are not vaccinated by Nov. 15 will no longer be eligible for Quebec’s bonuses of up to $18,000 for health workers, which was announced last month to retain employees amid staffing shortages.
Facing questions from reporters on the government’s about-face after asserting just yesterday there would be “no change” to the Oct. 15 vaccination deadline, Lucie Opatrny, Quebec’s associate deputy health minister, who joined Dubé at the press conference, said it would be irresponsible to be “completely inflexible.”
“To say that one would be completely inflexible on a hard deadline, faced with facts, I’m not sure that that would be responsible,” Opatrny said. “I don’t know that that would be a responsible way to act, given the needs of the population to receive health care and social services.”
Opatrny noted that at least 35 operating rooms and roughly 600 hospital beds in Quebec would be closed if the Oct. 15 deadline was enforced.
The deadline extension was welcomed by the medical union Fédération de la Santé du Québec (FSQ-CSQ), which represents more than 5,000 health workers in the province, saying it was “satisfied” with the postponement.
“As he admitted, the Minister [Dubé] simply had no choice, given the fragile state in which the network finds itself, to make this responsible decision,” said FSQ-CSQ president Claire Montour said in a news release.