About 74 per cent of eligible Albertans have received at least one dose of vaccine against COVID-19 and 59.7 per cent are fully immunized with two doses. (THE CANADIAN PRESS)

AHS extends mandatory COVID-19 vaccine deadline for workers

Policy will start on Nov. 30 to allow staff ample opportunity to get the vaccine

Alberta Health Services is allowing more time for employees to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

The organization had originally set an Oct. 30 deadline for all employees to receive the immunization.

In a press release Friday, AHS extended the deadline for all employees, medical and midwifery staff, students, volunteers and contracted healthcare providers to comply with its mandatory immunization policy by November 30.

“We stand by the mandatory immunization policy and it will be fully implemented,” said AHS President and CEO, Dr. Verna Yiu in the release.

“We are extending the deadline to give all employees more time to submit their proof of vaccination and, if they haven’t yet, to get fully vaccinated. We’re providing more time so our workforce is as safe and robust as it can be.”

AHS said in the release that 94 per cent of full-time and part-time AHS employees – and 94 per cent of AHS physicians – have submitted proof of having two doses of COVID-19 vaccine, with more than 97 per cent of ICU staff are fully immunized.

The policy applies to all AHS, Alberta Precision Labs, Carewest, CapitalCare and Covenant Health employees, members of the medical and midwifery staffs, students, and volunteers, and other persons acting on their behalf.

It also applies to the approximately 28,000 casuals employed by AHS. About 76 per cent of casuals have submitted proof of immunization. With casuals included, the immunization status of the organization is about 90 per cent.

AHS indicated in the release that there have been challenges with a small number of continuing care sites, including those in rural communities where immunization rates are low. Yiu noted the new deadline allows for those workers to get fully immunized and for sites to develop “contingency plans as needed.”

“We would like to thank those staff members who have already submitted their proof of immunization, and strongly urge those who haven’t to do so as soon as possible,” said Dr. Yiu.

“At the end of the day, it’s about protecting patients, continuing care residents, and anyone in our care, as well as looking out for our staff. We have a responsibility to do that.”

AHS also said they will only make exemptions for legitimate religious or medical reasons. So far, they have received just over 1,400 requests for medical or religious exemption, which will be reviewed prior to the deadline. Employees who are not fully immunized in compliance with the policy will be placed on an unpaid leave of absence.

AHS is also tracking resignations specific to the implementation of the vaccination policy. Overall, 61 employees have resigned, including 31 in clinical roles (of which 11 are Registered Nurses).

 

Red Deer respiratory therapist Sarah MacKenzie was among the first central Alberta health professionals to receive the Pfizer vaccine in December 2020. Since then, nearly 3.4 million doses have been administered and COVID cases are falling rapidly.
Photo by Alberta Health Services