Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw at yesterday’s COVID-19 briefing (Photo: Screenshot of Alberta Government video).

Alberta Health Services has been ordered by the Kenney Government to drop its policy of requiring health care workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

At the direction of Alberta’s government, Alberta Health Services will provide all unimmunized physicians and staff the option of temporary frequent COVID-19 testing to ensure the anticipated demand on the health-care system caused by the Omicron variant can be met,” says the news release posted yesterday on the Government of Alberta website. (Emphasis added.)

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

Back on Aug. 31, AHS adopted a policy of requiring all health care workers to be immunized or to face being put on unpaid leave.

Premier Jason Kenney didn’t like that.

Like the American Republican he is at heart, he likes to brag about how Alberta will never make anyone take a vaccine they don’t want – never mind the danger caused by unvaccinated health care workers. 

But then, in the first months of his leadership of the United Conservative Party, long before anyone knew a global pandemic was just over the horizon, he had used anti-vaccine sentiment among some Albertans as a wedge against the NDP.

Now, after two blunder-filled years as premier, he faces a leadership review in April and can’t afford to further alienate anti-vaxx MLAs in his already rebellious rural caucus who feared AHS’s mandatory vaccination policy might result in health care facilities closing in some of their ridings.

So the virulence of the Omicron variant has provided Mr. Kenney with a convenient excuse to force AHS to adopt the policy he wanted all along – and help him to solve a political problem of his own creation.

Back on Nov. 29, Heath Minister Jason Copping announced at a news conference that AHS leaders had been overruled and made to drop the mandatory vaccination policy, but only in rural areas where vaccine resistance was high.

Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

“I appreciate the tens of thousands of health-care workers who have made the right choice to get vaccinated,” Mr. Copping said at the time. However, he claimed, “this directive is about protecting patient care – primarily in rural areas.”

Responding to reporters at that news conference, AHS CEO Verna Yiu explained politely that “we were prepared to stay our course.”

Her language was diplomatic, but it was clear she wasn’t happy with the cabinet’s interference in the safe operation of health care facilities for political reasons.

“I acknowledge that the introduction of a temporary testing option may frustrate physicians and staff who have made the decision to get immunized, and those feelings are valid,” she observed pointedly. 

Mr. Copping’s interference meant that while employees in large urban health care facilities had to be vaccinated, those in rural areas didn’t. That created new problems for AHS when urban anti-vaxxers employed by AHS complained, accurately enough, that they weren’t being treated the same way.

Now the Kenney Government has used Omicron as an excuse to fix that problem too – which may make sense from the perspective of labour-relations, Mr. Copping’s former portfolio, but is potentially a public health disaster. 

Alberta Health Services President and CEO Verna Yiu (Photo: Alberta Newsroom/Flickr).

It was of course preposterous when Mr. Copping said yesterday “we stand by the Alberta Health Services workers immunization policy as we have from the start.” It is quite apparent the opposite is true. 

Troublingly, it appears Dr. Yiu has now been strong-armed into endorsing this latest policy flip-flop. 

How else are we to interpret the quote attributed to her in yesterday’s news release? 

“We are concerned about the rapid rise in Omicron cases across the province in recent days, and anticipate that it could further impact our health-care system quickly,” Dr. Yiu was quoted as saying. “We must ensure we have the staff and resources required to care for our patients.”

Meanwhile, at yesterday afternoon’s COVID-19 briefing, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw, flying solo, told a different story – without acknowledging the obvious contradiction. 

Alberta is so likely to be overwhelmed by the Omicron variant, Dr. Hinshaw explained, that something must be done to ease the burden on provincial labs – which will presumably now be busy processing regular tests for the 1,650 health care employees who had been put on unpaid leave by AHS’s vaccination policy. 

For the rest of us, those hard-to-find rapid antigen tests are going to have to suffice. 

If you test positive on one, Dr. Hinshaw said, it’s your responsibility to isolate yourself and inform anyone you’ve contacted. 

Contract tracing will be limited to high-priority settings, she told reporters, and through the holidays there will only be occasional reports on infection rates, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. 

If this sounds to you as if the chief medical officer of health and the government have given up on controlling the virus, and may not want us to know how bad things getting, you are hardly alone. 

Naturally, Dr. Hinshaw repeated her call for Albertans to get their third shots of COVID-19 vaccine and reduce their seasonal social contacts. 

But when reporters tried to get her to say something critical about Tuesday’s UCP holiday bash in Edmonton, attended by 200 or so United Conservatives a couple of hours after Premier Kenney finished lecturing the rest of us on the need to cut our holiday socializing in half, she would have none of it:

“I think if I were to sit in judgment of everyone who perhaps caused increased risk, I would not have enough hours in the day, so I will just say that all of us, everyone across this province, we have an opportunity right now, COVID-19 in the form of the Omicron variant is spreading very fast, and in this next week, the choices that we make will have significant consequences not just for us, but for those around us,” she rambled. 

Have a happy Christmas, everyone. I expect to file my next post on Dec. 27. DJC 

Join the Conversation

18 Comments

  1. Is there any way we can get rid of these pretend conservatives and Reformers in Alberta, that are doing so much damage, and putting so many lives at risk, in such a short time frame? I don’t think we will ever recover from the extensive damage that the UCP has done. Peter Lougheed was certainly right about not being able to trust Reformers. The UCP is helping their rich corporate friends, doing the priciest shenanigans, not helping everyday Albertans, and compounding problems with such a dismal handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The UCP’s restaurant gathering is downplayed by many, and Covid-19 cases in Alberta rise, faster and faster. If I go to my local church, it has restrictions put upon it, from the UCP, but the UCP can have all the parties it wants, with lots of people, and feels they are exempt from the rules they made? I’m definitely not impressed with the UCP. It also looks like the UCP has controlled Dr. Deena Hinshaw so much that she will not even condemn this recent large party by the UCP members at a restaurant. I don’t know how the UCP will react, when they are facing lawsuits, after people’s lives are put in jeopardy. It mirrors Ralph Klein’s very bad policies. Despite warnings, people in Alberta fell for the Liberal turned Reformer, Ralph Klein’s lies, and Alberta was no better off. Meanwhile, Postmedia, and other media outlets are all over the Thomas Dang affair, when they don’t even know what actually happened, and the supporters of the UCP are screaming for blood, when it could end up actually being nothing of substance. I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

  2. Hinshaw’s mastery of mouthing off a succession of statements as word salads has had a lot of practice of late. Now that it appears that Alberta’s healthcare officials are completely under the thumb of Kenney’s will and dementia, I suspect that whatever minimal restrictions that are in place will be completely lifted after Christmas Day, just in time for the Best Year’s Eve Ever.

    Of course all this is predicated on the notion (gamble) that Omicron will only be a mild personal health inconvenience. A few sniffles and a runny nose but that is all. While the rest of Canada, indeed the Western World, is cautious and guarded about the effects of this variant, in Kenney’s Alberta it’s all about partying hard and drunken line dancing. Yee-hah.

    Kenney has already telegraphed that COVID is going to be part of normal life, so time to give up. Some indication that he doesn’t take it seriously (and likely never really did) he used the reference to future variants calling them “the latest bat soup from Wuhan”. There was an immediate uproar over that bonne mot, because it’s obviously racist, but that’s Kenney’s style. He likes thinking of COVID in Trumpian terms, like “Wuhan Virus” and “Kung Flu” because that’s what his Foxnews/OAN/NewsMax ingesting base loves. (Btw, so called bat soup is a food recipe from parts of Indonesia, but it’s never been adopted in any part of China.) Kenney shoots his mouth off with a racist quip and them has his spinners put the word out that he’s not racist because he really loves Chinese food.

    Oh, I’m really hoping for a massive and deadly super-spreader in Alberta now.

  3. Sigh…things must be pretty dire for the Kenney government to overrule the sensible vaccination policy of AHS. Of course, once they made an exemption for rural Alberta to allow unvaccinated workers to go back to work, they had to allow all unvaccinated workers to go back to work. In fact, the UNA, while acknowledging that the initial policy that required all employees to be vaccinated, filed a grievance to this effect: https://www.una.ca/1307/una-files-grievances-against-amended-ahs-and-covenant-health-immunization-policy. The union has an obligation to represent all its members, even the looney anti-vaxxers that comprise a small minority of their membership.

    I suspect, but don’t know, that a condition of new employment in AHS will be a vaccine mandate. So, this should not be an issue in the long term. But, right now, current employees that refuse the vaccine are putting themselves and the people they look after at greater risk, rapid testing or not. If I were a cancer patient or had a child that was a cancer patient I would not want my self or my child to be treated by any health care professional that was not fully vaccinated.

    It may be the case that the government had no choice in that they either had to make an accommodation to allow the anti-vaxxers back to work or risk complete or partial closure to 16 rural health care centers. That said, the government created this crises in the first place by giving voice to and amplifying the anti-vaxxer dissent. Kenney and the UCP government are to blame for this particular failure of public health policy among many others.

  4. Finally some common sense. Nowhere in this piece does it mention omicron is spreading like wildfire among the vaccinated and unvaccinated alike. In fact, at this stage the vaccines have become irrelevant. AHS should be testing all workers, not just the unjabbed.

    Coupled with that are the TV images of long lines of people waiting to get tested, the vast majority of whom have nothing to worry about. It’s like a mass psychosis has descended down on everyone. This is the product of the Covid Fear Industrial Complex which has been bombarding the airwaves with omicron doomsday scenarios. The frontline doctors in South Africa who discovered omicron have been saying for weeks that it’s just a cold, nothing to worry about.

    Sometimes you have to feel sorry for Jason Kenney. He’s caught in the middle between his backbenchers who want to throw everything open like it’s a Fourth of July rodeo and the lockdown fanatics who want Gestapo-like enforcement. It’s too bad that vaccine hesitancy has become associated with right wing talking points. In response the liberal left/progressive crowd have flocked to the defence of the vaccines and the pharmaceuticals and have rolled up their arms to get jabbed not once, not twice but three times (soon it’ll be four times) because you know, yay science! Getting the jab is an act of defiance.

    1. We’ve never had lockdowns in alberta, the vaccines work, it’s what preventing folks with breakthrough cases from
      getting deathly ill. I myself have been protected from exposure by said vaccine, so yeah, yay science. Is it perfect ? No, but what is ?

      The gestapo rounded up Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and communists to be sent to their almost certain deaths. Maybe dial back the hyperbole a bit, it’s both fringing on Holocaust denial and extremely childish.

  5. So, presumably the next step will be for the government to say the labs are too busy and order AHS to accept unvaccinated health care workers without a test, and maybe unvaccinated visitors as well. This would be entirely in character.

  6. Now add to this the fact that the government doesn’t want us to get a PCR test if we have symptoms, even if we don’t have access to rapid test kits. And add to this the fact that vaccination appointments being cancelled by providers due to a shortage of vaccines from the province. Add to that the fact that the government of Alberta doesn’t want people under 30 to get the Moderna vaccine, but is now filling the shortage of vaccines with Moderna.

    Top of the list for access to the new antibody treatment are the unvaccinated, and the unvaccinated with comorbidities. They will get access to that treatment with a PCR test.

    https://www.albertahealthservices.ca/topics/Page17753.aspx

    Things are out of control. Add it all up and it almost seems like anti-vaxxers are being rewarded for their behavior. Who knew that saving the lives of those who did nothing to save themselves would be our province’s top priority, while the rest of us are on our own?

  7. You cannot have infected healthcare workers in hospitals, much less have them care for infected patients. This is madness.

    Some will say, but they aren’t infected, they simply refuse to be vaccinated. With Omicron’s transmissibility being as high as measles, you can test negative in the morning, and by late afternoon you could test positive. And, if you you work with infected people, indoors, then it doesn’t matter, especially if you test every few days.

    Therefore, being an un-vaccinated healthcare worker caring for infected patients indoors you are as good as infected yourself. It’s an absolutely preposterous situation that is logically indefensible.

    But hey, welcome to Alberta! Remember you voted for this folks.

    1. Being vaccinated or unvaccinated, you can still get and give Covid. The only thing the vaccine does is lessen the symptoms of covid, it works just like the Influenza vaccine. Get your facts straight. So stop with the unvaccinated are the bad guys. I myself know of health care staff that are fully vaccinated and got Covid and unvaccinated that have not got covid.

  8. I believe that this is a clear indication that Kenney is far from confident about the April vote.

    I would not surprise me if Dr. Hinshaw resigns. Her position has become untenable.

    Perhaps there will also be some AHA resignations.

    We have a physician shortage in Alberta. Especially in the rural areas. Kenney’s direction to AHS will do harm to this recruitment effort.

  9. I have to say, watching the Omicron spreading with lightening speed across the country, regardless what different restrictions, testing protocols and such provincial jurisdictions are putting in place, I am not that surprised that Jason Kenney and Deena Hinshaw have given up on the virus.

    It seems that nothing any other province is doing differently in terms of trying to control the spread, nothing seems to work.

    Merry Christmas David, thanks for all you do to keep us informed.

    1. A few things we haven’t tried.

      Patent waivers for the third world.
      Massive public infrastructure spending on ventilation, which being this is spread through aerosols makes no sense.
      Actual lockdowns.
      Paying folks who can’t get away from their subsistence level job to take time to get vaccinated.
      Mandating large employers like Cargill are responsible for their employees health, and having actual consequences when that does not happen.

      Additionally we kicked everyone who was on EI back off, so they could go die for capitalism.

      Respectfully we’ve done nothing, and that hasn’t worked out all that well. This is the greatest public health failing of all time.

  10. Journalism bit the dust at the same time that science did back in February, 2020, and has been replaced with something called “fact-checking”, but if one puts in a bit of work, some semblance of reality can still be gleaned.
    The PCR tests in Alberta are performed with a positive threshold of 35.
    https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7219382/

    This fellow, who comes to us via the United States Army, says that 35 cycles is A-OK, and like the Roman Catholic view of the bible, the significance of this threshold is only to be interpreted by the anointed:
    https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/covid-19-critical-thinking/covid-19-pcr-test-reliable-despite-commotion-about-ct-values

    This is however, at odds with the view of the inventor of the PCR process. Any mention though, of the late Kary Mullis, is now dismissed as “conspirary theory”, the thought-terminating cliché used to answer any allegation that NATO, or the CIA, or the Canadian state, or any other awesome group of Military Industrial Complex people, is up to no good.

    This is what experts in the New York Times had to say:
    “The C.D.C.’s own calculations suggest that it is extremely difficult to detect any live virus in a sample above a threshold of 33 cycles. Officials at some state labs said the C.D.C. had not asked them to note threshold values or to share them with contact-tracing organizations.”
    https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/29/health/coronavirus-testing.html

    Here in Alberta, I have been watching and laughing to myself for about three months as I watched the portion of “completely vaccinated” among active Covid “cases” steadily rise. It has now reached the ratio of “completely vaccinated” to unvaccinated in the general population. Meaning there is no visible vaccine effect on transmission.
    https://www.alberta.ca/stats/covid-19-alberta-statistics.htm#vaccine-outcomes

    So Dr. Hinshaw has instructed folks to forgo PCR, because they’re just so darned busy, and to use antigen tests instead. In September, my household was laid low for about three day with an influenza-like illness. My better half, under duress from her employer, took a PCR test and was positive. My son took three rapid antigen tests over a week, and was negative every time. I refused to play the game and went back to work after isolating for ten days. Perhaps we just coincidentally all had different bugs, although apparently influenza disappeared from earth with the introduction of mass PCR testing for SARS CoV-2 across the globe. More miracles in the age of a $9 trillion fed balance and a nuclear show-down with Russia. Good times.

    Here’s a conspiracy theory for you. Alberta’s “waves” have all coincided with astronomical increases in testing. As well, some time in September, Dr. Hinshaw declcared that any report of ILI in schools was automatically Covid, also increasing the case totals.
    But now, with the double-barrelled vaccine proving to have a somewhat obscure capacity to prevent transmission, symptomatic folks can forgo PCR and just use the hard-to-get and hard-to-pass rapid tests. And we can get those darned “complete vaccination” case numbers down where Pfizer, Moderna and DARPA need them to be to keep selling miracle shots to the world’s governments.

    Two weeks to flatten the curve, and get ready for 800 000 cases in Alberta in six weeks indeed!

  11. As of this evening, Christmas Eve, Alberta and Saskatchewan are the only two provinces that haven’t released daily case counts. Don’t hold your breath.

  12. The local star phoenix says that uptake for booster shots is strong. One of the sites where you can supposedly get a booster shot is at Lawson Heights Mall. I walk there 5 days a week and the is a line set up for boosters.

    In the last 5 days I have seen 0 people lining up for booster shots and there is no site in the mall that is offering the boosters.

    Go figure.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.