Alberta Health Services rescinded its mandatory COVID-19 immunization requirement for all employees yesterday, effective immediately.
In a memorandum emailed to staff, physicians and volunteers, interim CEO Mauro Chies and Senior Medical Officer of Health Laura McDougall made it clear this means workers will no longer have to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
The same statement with only minor modifications was published as a news release later in the day.
The policy change “applies to all AHS, Covenant Health, Carewest, CapitalCare, and Alberta Precision Laboratories employees, members of the medical and midwifery staff, students and instructors, volunteers, and applicable contracted service providers,” the memorandum stated.
“In addition, new hires and students will no longer be required to be immunized for COVID-19 upon hire or placement.”
AHS would very much like to leave the impression this was a policy the health care agency came up with on its own.
Fair or not, the general consensus is that the decision was in fact made by the United Conservative Party Government and the health authority’s leaders were pushed to go along regardless of the seventh wave of the virus now cresting in Alberta.
NDP Health Critic David Shepherd put it more bluntly than most when he said, “Make no mistake, this is a political decision made by the UCP, and not a clinical one made by AHS health care professionals.”
“It is absurd that protection against COVID-19 is being removed from the list of required vaccinations for new AHS staff,” Mr. Shepherd said in a statement to media late yesterday. “This virus has killed more than 4,600 Albertans, and patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities are most at risk.”
That much of his statement, at least, reflected the prevailing opinion about what most likely happened, whether or not Health Minister Jason Copping and the UCP, as Mr. Shepherd averred, “are pandering to an extreme anti-vaccine fringe in the party” and “validating the false and dangerous anti-vaccine statements made by UCP leadership candidates.”
Mr. Chies and Dr. McDougall implied in their memo and the press release that the decreasing effectiveness of current vaccines against transmission and infection made the policy impractical.
There may be some truth to that. Anyway, the vast majority of heath care employees in Alberta are sensibly vaccinated, although the fact that not all are may be less than comforting to many patients.
“Our workforce continues to be required to stay home when sick, wear required personal protective equipment and practice hand hygiene,” the memo said.
Those concerned about the spread of new variants of the virus will be less reassured by its promise that “we will continue to closely monitor scientific evidence to assess the need for additional measures.”
That is not likely to mean much with AHS hamstrung by a government that increasingly takes its lead from radical anti-vaxxers in the ruling party’s base as the contest to see who replaces Premier Jason Kenney intensifies.
Unlike other provinces, there was no parallel announcement from the government yesterday that fourth doses of COVID-19 vaccines would be made more widely available to Albertans under 70. Ontario, by contrast, expanded eligibility for a fourth dose of COVID vaccine to all adult Ontarians last week.
It would seem the characteristic approach taken throughout the pandemic by the UCP persists: When it comes to lifting public health measures, the government is determined to be the first. When it comes to providing life-saving vaccines, it wants to wait and see what other provinces do.
UCP funds McCarthyism at home and abroad
It’s interesting that the UCP government appears to be using tax dollars to fund attacks on journalists on both sides of the Canada-U.S. border.
New York-based investigative climate journalist Geoff Dembicki reported yesterday that the Canadian Energy Centre, better known as the Alberta Energy War Room, hired a U.S. crisis management firm that according to its website treats journalists as enemies who are “hostile, aggressive and willing to disregard standards and collude with almost any antagonist.”
Mr. Dembicki made the connection from foreign registration documents filed with the U.S, Department of Justice, according to his story published by The Tyee, a Vancouver-based online news site.
Counterpoint Strategies Ltd. of New York was contracted to provide strategic social media and digital advice to the War Room on how to confront media, the story reveals. The filings indicated company founder James Andrew McCarthy “renders services directly” to the War Room.
Mr. Dembicki wrote that Counterpoint and Mr. McCarthy “gained notoriety from media watchers for pioneering the practice of using Google ads to draw negative attention to specific journalists who wrote stories that his corporate clients didn’t like.”
I don’t know about you, but funding digital McCarthyism at home and abroad doesn’t seem to me like a good look for the government of a democratic jurisdiction!