B.C. drops COVID vaccine requirement for government workers

Photo: Vancouver Coastal Health

B.C. is dropping its COVID vaccine requirement for public service workers as of April 3, although it will remain for people working in health-care facilities.

The province says the decision to rescind the policy was based on the high level of vaccination among public-service employees —about 98 per cent — and the current state of the pandemic.

The move comes as the public service struggles to hire enough people to fill job openings.

The 36,000-member-strong public service includes everyone from government workers to corrections officers, wildfire fighters, and liquor and cannabis retail staff.

About 2,500 public-service and health-care workers are not vaccinated. The province did not have an immediate number Friday for how many public service workers are on unpaid leave due to the requirement to show proof of vaccination, saying only that it’s small.

“Rescinding the vaccination policy means a small number of employees on administrative leave due to non-compliance will be provided the opportunity to return to the workplace,” said the province in a news release on Friday.

The change also means contractors and other non-employees do not need to be vaccinated to enter B.C. Public Service workplaces, the province says.

Under provincial health officer orders, those working in health-care settings from hospitals and clinics to long-term care homes — the highest-risk settings where the most vulnerable live — must still provide proof of vaccination.

The vaccination requirement for public-service employees was introduced in November 2021 and was always intended as a temporary measure to help protect employees and the people they serve, according to the province.

The Opposition Liberals have been calling since the summer for the requirement to be rescinded, noting the mandate was never meant to be permanent. Last year, the federal government invited back workers who chose not to be vaccinated and were put on administrative leave without pay.

The province said the Public Service Agency “continues to encourage” all employees to remain up to date on their COVID-19 vaccinations, including booster doses.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix are expected to announce information on a spring COVID booster campaign at a 1:30 p.m. news conference.