Whether someone is getting a COVID-19 vaccine is private medical information, so neither employers, unions nor the province have exact statistics on vaccination rates. But health unions say there are still members who haven’t even received a first dose, let alone a second.
Many health workers were offered vaccines before the general public at special vaccination clinics from December.
According to the Department of Health and Wellness, approximately 56,000 doses of vaccine were administered during these clinics, and of the workers who were vaccinated, about half also received a second dose.
Closure of health worker vaccination clinics
But the system for workers to reserve a vaccine had problems and some people fell through the cracks. Others were not given time off to get vaccinated during clinics.
Then, in April, separate clinics for health workers were closed, and those who were not vaccinated were told they would have to wait until their age group opened to the general public.
Jason MacLean, president of the Nova Scotia Government and General Employees Union, said most of the healthcare workers who missed special clinics are in their 20s, 30s or 40s.
“A lot of them were abandoned because they were offered this and then they were taken away from them,” he said.
On May 10, a registered nurse working in an acute care unit in the Halifax Infirmary wrote to Dr. Robert Strang, the Chief Medical Officer of Health, to challenge her claim made during a briefing on the COVID-19 that frontline healthcare workers had “lots of opportunities” to access vaccines before they were released to the public.
“It is… wrong of you to mislead the public into believing that we all had the same luck in January, when that is simply not true,” she wrote in the letter, which was shared in part with the CBC by the NSGEU.
“It gave us the impression that we chose not to reserve our vaccines, when in reality we begged for them. “
The nurse wrote that she didn’t get the link to book a vaccine until April, and when she tried, the link didn’t work. Soon after, she said, the online booking process for healthcare workers was cut short. The nurse was not able to make an appointment for her first dose until mid-May.
Another nurse wrote to the NSGEU to tell them, as they were receiving their first dose in April, that some younger colleagues had not had the opportunity at all because the deployment to health workers had abruptly interrupted.
“Many of our employees have spent days calling and emailing trying to get vaccinated, with no response,” the letter said.
Bev Strachan, president of CUPE Local 8920, which represents about 4,800 acute care workers across the province outside of the Central Zone, said she knew a worker who had not received vaccine, had not received any training in droplet precautions or switching on and off. protective gear, and was not fitted with an N95 mask – and she works with COVID-positive patients.
“She happens to be one that I know. I suspect there would be some people I didn’t know about.
Tracey Barbrick, who is responsible for vaccine deployment in the province, said Public Health, the Department of Health and Nova Scotia Health had all agreed to shut down special clinics because community clinics were opening up access so quickly.
She said special clinics are vaccinating workers in their 20s at that time, so few would have had access. Barbrick said the Nova Scotia Department of Health is still working to get a first vaccine for unvaccinated healthcare workers.
Vaccination rate among long-term care workers
Barbrick said based on self-reported surveys in the long-term care industry, 65 to 75 percent of staff at these facilities are vaccinated.
On Friday, Strang said public health is working to understand the barriers to vaccinating staff and encouraging facilities to allow staff to use their paid work time to get vaccinated.
Prioritize health workers for second doses
As of May 17, there had been 40 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Nova Scotia Health employees during Wave 3, and 15 were still active, according to an update from Nova Scotia Health to its employees.
MacLean said two workers at the Halifax infirmary tested positive after a tracheostomy on one patient, and several others were in isolation because they were close contacts. He said another outbreak in Wave 3 occurred at a telehealth workplace in Dartmouth when 12 of 30 employees tested positive because there were no barriers between offices .
As vaccine rollout accelerates to ensure the general population receives the first doses, the four major unions – CUPE, NSGEU, Nova Scotia Nurses Union and Unifor – are calling on workers in the health are given priority for the second doses.
“Now that the third wave is here, we’re hearing a little more from our nurses than now that we’re here and it’s big, we’d love to have our second dose,” said Janet Hazelton, president of nurses. union.
Barbrick said healthcare workers will not have special access to second doses, but since many received their first injection before the general public, they will need to receive their second earlier than others.
As the third wave continues to hit Nova Scotia and fill COVID-19 units in hospitals, some unions are also calling for employers to send fully vaccinated workers to these units and only use partially vaccinated staff and not vaccinated as a last resort.
“Nova Scotia Health is scrambling to staff some areas and open up new areas, but they don’t think about it. They’re just trying to put bodies in there, which is really dangerous, ”MacLean said.
A statement from Nova Scotia Health says it “takes the health and safety of all of its staff very seriously.”
“Whole teams of health, safety and wellness experts are constantly reviewing developments in our hospitals, and workplace safety strategies are constantly being refined to ensure the protection of staff and patients,” said spokesperson Brendan Elliott.
“The demand for critical care human resources in response to the increased inpatient and intensive care capacity of COVID-19 has necessitated a reallocation of our skilled and dedicated healthcare staff.
“To support these reassigned workers, targeted education and support has been provided and will continue to be provided through a variety of means. “
MacLean said the province asked the NSGEU last week to survey its members working in home care to help determine how many of them were vaccinated, but the union said on Friday it would not conduct the investigation .
The union that represents paramedics, Local 727 of the International Union of Operating Engineers, plans to survey its members to find out if they are vaccinated.