NDP Opposition Health Critic David Shepherd (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Alberta Health Services rescinded its mandatory COVID-19 immunization requirement for all employees yesterday, effective immediately. 

Alberta Health Services interim CEO Mauro Chies (Photo: Northern Alberta Institute of Technology).

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.

Senior Medical Officer of Health Laura McDougall (Photo: Twitter/Alberta Health Services).

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. 

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

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 (Photo: The Tyee).

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!

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20 Comments

  1. Well, it’s not like the UCP or Kenney ever cared about the pandemic anyway. Now that a seventh variant wave is encroaching, it looks like the last two years will be rolled back to those days when Kenney was going on and on about Covid fatalities among those 80 years and up as being at their best before date.

    Now that the pandemic is considered to be little more than a paper tiger, the only one who is going hysterical about the next wave is PMJT and his bad haircut. And then there’s Danielle Smith going on about the excess capacity in AHS facilities, adding another dimension to the PLANdemic narrative. All that’s needed is to find those excess of healthcare workers, who will be simply rounded up and forced back into the field they ran from. Cowardly unionized traitors!

    So, get ready for Postmedia’s usual don’t worry-be-happy-or-else narrative that the UCP is the greatest among all CONs. Of course, there’s that problem of Danielle Smith, but I’m sure she’s willing to work out a deal for their patronage.

  2. It has been noted that Alberta has just entered into the seventh wave of Covid-19, and cases are creeping upwards. Now, healthcare employees in Alberta won’t have to be vaccinated against Covid-19. This is not a reassuring thing at all, and you can bet your bottom dollar that the UCP are behind this. This is going to put more people at risk, and many more deaths will result. The UCP seems to lack in the learning department, because there have already been 6 waves of Covid-19 in Alberta. There has been many times where Alberta has exceeded all provinces and territories in Canada for having the highest per capita rate of Covid-19 cases. The UCP does everything backwards, and also does what will keep their fanbase happy. What results in this, is more problems. Nobody in their right frame of mind will like to see more needless deaths. By August, and September, we will see things get even worse in Alberta, as Covid-19 cases accelerate. I think that Thanksgiving will be called off, because in October, Covid-19 cases will still be very high. The UCP is trying to undermine, and weaken our public healthcare system in Alberta, by any means possible, including with mismangement of the Covid-19 pandemic, just so they can have the excuse to privatize it. Ralph Klein had the idea of private for profit healthcare in Alberta, that’s why he made intense cuts to it. If there are any deaths from the UCP ‘s negligence, there will likely be lawsuits, just like they happened when Ralph Klein was premier of Alberta. They will likely be done in a secret settlement, and the UCP won’t reveal what the costs of this will be.
    The UCP is stopping at nothing to fund their $120 million propaganda machine called the War Room, which is loaded with other costs, including Tom Olsen, a former Postmedia columnist, and a defeated UCP candidate, who gets $195,000 a year to operate it. They use it to attack anybody who exposes things about the oil industry in Alberta that goes against what the UCP would like people to believe. There is more government departments, agencies, and ministries in the UCP, than any other provincial government in the history of Alberta. All are very expensive, and very redundant. Albertans certainly deserve better than the UCP, and what they have done for Alberta, and in 2023, things will have to be shaken up in Alberta.

  3. Why have mandatory immunization when the virus itself is evolving and keeping one step ahead, making the vaccines largely ineffective?
    Shepherd and other vax enthusiasts have a religious, child like faith in vaccines, they are going to save us from our ills. You NEED to believe. To express doubt is indicative of moral failings.
    That’s understandable. Western modern medicine has made vaccines the cornerstone of healing therapy. There are no other alternatives.
    It’s too bad the subject has become highly politicized. Early on vaccine skepticism became identified as a right wing talking point and liberal progressive types have jumped on the vaccine bandwagon, determined to make it a wedge issue. The science has taken a back seat.

    1. This just in: fourth Covid vaccines available to 18+ Albertans.

      Health experts that I follow have never said that vaccines alone are the answer. They say that vaccines and other public health measures are needed. The problem is that the other public health measures under provincial control have for the most part been eliminated.

      “Why have mandatory immunization when the virus itself is evolving and keeping one step ahead, making the vaccines largely ineffective?”

      Viruses adapt and evolve over time. Take the flu vaccine, for example. Vaccine manufacturers have a new vaccine in development for the Omicron strains.

    2. ronmac – I believe that I get the point of your post. However, there are some things that would benefit from some clarification.

      First … I don’t think the virus is evolving, in the sense that it will ever be more than a virus; adapting, certainly, but not on its way to full genetic capabilities; no legs, teeth, tongue or brains. It is true that the vaccines are failing to keep up with the virus’ rate of adaptation and are becoming largely ineffective.

      Second … the vaccine regimen has not been a complete failure, so there have been demonstrable benefits. It is inaccurate to claim that mere faith has accomplished this.

      Third … a moral failure for me would be recognizing that I could be doing anything to alleviate suffering and death for others, but choosing otherwise.

      Fourth … a cornerstone is just one part of a structure – a very weak and inadequate structure if the other stones are lacking in efficacy. What alternatives do you suggest?

      Fifth … I agree, politicization of the issue is unfortunate. This is not the advent of polarized political views and it certainly isn’t going to be the last controversial issue to arise. I don’t really follow the right/ left view of life and question your assertion that this “wedge” is a result of so many making the choice to do what they can to protect themselves and others.

      Sixth … Science has taken a backseat to faith, scepticism and statistics. Science will plug along through time and may surprise us – or not.

      Finally … I recognize other illnesses and injuries. I would only present myself at a medical facility out of necessity and I would expect all possible precautions to be taken to prevent tossing a viral infection into the mix. Too much to ask?

    3. Ronmac, you’ve put the Con cart before the progressive horse. Remember when Covid-19 was new and scary, and no vaccines were available? Jason Kenney, the poster boy for Con values, kept telling us that “Covid-19 is just another flu.” It wasn’t. It still isn’t. Yet Kenney, and other Cons, kept repeating this mantra like a prayer. They wore that line out about the time the Delta variant showed up.

      The science has NOT “taken a back seat.” It’s been wrestled to the ground by QAnon crazies who are kneeling on its neck. As for needing to believe—Dave Shepherd, I and many others are not “believers.” We are confident that modern medicine, though not perfect (and no responsible doctor or scientist would claim it was), is still a damn sight better than blind, emotional faith in bleach, hydroxyquinone and ivermectin.

      Vaccines are a “cornerstone of healing therapy”? Yes. Because they work. They work even better when combined with public-health measures that were proven to work in 1919 and 1920, the Spanish Flu epidemic. Face masks, physical distancing, avoiding crowded indoor venues—they all help.

      “Viruses adapt.” They sure do. They adapt even faster when many potential hosts are un- or under-vaccinated. Hence Delta and now Omicron. There are three Omicron subvariants driving the latest wave: BA4, BA5 and lately BA2-75. Each is more transmissible than Delta. Hospitals throughout Canada are again in danger of being overwhelmed.

      If we’re all lucky, a new class of vaccines, targeted at something other than the spike proteins, will restore protection against Omicron. If not—buy yourself more masks, buddy, ‘cause you’re gonna need ‘em, just like the rest of us.

      The “political polarization” has come primarily from people who seem mostly to hate being told what to do. So help me, the noisiest ones (who get the most press coverage) make me think of 2-year old boys stubbornly refusing to eat their vegetables. That’s who’s made vaccination a “wedge issue.” Con politicians like Kenney and Pierre Poilievre have driven the wedge deep, breaking public trust in science wide open.

      So, Ronmac, you’re free to spin this any way you want. You can believe any drivel you come across on the Internet, if it pleases you. But the rest of us are just as free to call you on it when you’re wrong.

  4. “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.”

    CBC ran a story last week about vaccine eligibility in the various provinces and territories. As a 65 year old, I am eligible for a fourth shot in every province except Alberta, BC and Newfoundland & Labrador… and a commenter on this site mentioned that BC has since expanded eligibility.

  5. Counterpoint to the UCP’s pandemic policies and McCarthyism bitumen-listing Sasquatch: the entire UCP caucus is composed of culls from which party members must take their pick.

    For your physical, if not your mental health, my Alberta friends: pick wisely when your turn comes around.

  6. All of these things are happening when the UCP is about to elect a new leader.

    They hold the power of life and death over the citizens of Alberta. Apparently, they’re in favor of the latter and unwilling to do much to support the former. They are setting a formal path toward subverting media, traditionally guardians of democracy and truth, through a policy of harassment. Time will tell if that will extend to bloggers and social media commenters. Didn’t Steve Allen say the premise behind the War Room was unfounded? Are they going after non-War Room matters, such as attacking anyone who says anything against the UCP government?

    They are showing us who they are, in the cold light of day. Imagine what they will do to us if they are re-elected.

    (Can we travel to a random province that values the lives of its citizens for our fourth vaccines? Ironic that it’s pretty straightforward to get the flu shot every year.)

  7. Getting even with anyone who doesn’t support their brand of stupidity is what Reformers stand for in true dictatorship fashion. While Jason Kenney tries to kick out the RCMP for daring to investigate his party his pal Pierre Poilievre has promised , if elected, to destroy the careers of around 7,500 young Canadians for daring to criticize the brand of stupid politics he plans to bring to Canadians. It’s obvious that these fools support the Donald Trump brand of American Republican Party brand of stupid politics. The right to bare arms while while Americans are being gunned down in grocery stories and school classrooms and these fools don’t care. They claim that the problem is that they don’t have enough guns and teachers should be armed. Where is the intelligence in that?

  8. Are alarms being sounded across the nation? This is certainly alarming news. It sometimes appears to me that the actions of the Alberta government are sliding up the scale from wacky to iconoclastic to arrogant bombast. Unfortunately, there don’t seem to be any provincial jurisdictions where contrast can be found.

    When I read Dembicki’s article yesterday, my brain reeled and my heart sunk a bit more. I wonder if Counterpoint was involved in the misinformation circulated about Singh’s opulent residence during the last federal election campaign. Will Mr. Climenhaga face outrageous fantasies with respect to his personal and professional life? AAArrgghh! Look … over there ….is it a sunfish? a basking shark? …. no, it is somesweetday’s sinking heart, barely visible above the surface of the vast, dark deeps.

    I have all advertising blocked on my devices and recommend everyone else do the same, except for one brave sentinel to monitor the War Room’s campaign.

    Is there some mystical significance to the letters “C” and “P” and “U” that I am unaware of? Shuffle them a bit and add a “T”, we get this:

    https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/ottawa/united-people-canada-st-brigids-lowertown-ottawa-1.6523811

    Con-fusing?

    (a small note – the tagged section at the end of your article has a misspelling – unless the UCP is being coy)

  9. Its hard to say whether the latest UCP stupidity is because of the kookiness of some of the leadership candidates or it is a preexisting condition. After all, this was the party that brought us the summer of greatest COVID infections in its haste to get rid of any or all sensible COVID rules or restrictions. They have also since gotten hid of the head of AHS, whose biggest sin in the minds of the COVID kooks seems to be having such restrictions. Maybe some UCP leadership candidate will come out against this, but I doubt it.

    It might be a good idea for all AHS staff who are vaccinated against COVID to start wearing buttons or pins saying I am vaccinated, so we know which ones to trust. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if the UCP tried to shut this down. They are probably only in favour of free speech when it is convenient for them.

  10. Ah, wonderful. More “health” pronouncements from the Utterly Crazy Party. Vaccination not required, now—at least, not Covid-19 vaccination. Could this be the reason they fired Dr. Verna Yiu with a year’s severance pay? They knew she’d fight such stupidity? Or maybe it’s just a fringe benefit, an extra from having removed a respected, effective opponent of health-care privatization.

    I wonder how many more doctors and nurses will flee Oilberduh as the number of unvaccinated hospital staff slowly increases? Maybe AHS can send the “don’t jab me” crowd to rural hospitals, like that one where NONE of the staff were vaccinated—by their own choice. Where was that, again? Really, I don’t want to remember.

    The Kenney guv’mint has been running an uncontrolled experiment in natural selection. Dumb people refuse to get the jab, smart people ignore their noise and get vaccinated. I wouldn’t care if the dumb ones would keep the disease among themselves—but they can’t. They spread it around, and only blind luck and favourable genetic mutations protect us all from dangerous, potentially deadly, infection.

    Stock up on masks, friends. We’re gonna need ‘em. Avoid crowds, if you can. Pray that the next generation of vaccines is effective against Omicron variants—and that the next generation of Albertans is less stupid.

  11. Could the change be as simple as an easy, albeit small, measure to alleviate staffing shortages? Of course the unions have vested interest in worsening staff shortages to drive up overtime pay.

    Covid-19 vaccines aren’t all that effective at containing spread of Omicron and its subvariants. Vaccine mandates at this point only signal tribal affiliation

  12. OK, I get it, we’re all sick & tired of COVID. But what is so deeply frustrating is that we had an opportunity to almost completely suppress it, and we let it slip through our grasp by letting off on the brake too soon.

    Had we kept the vaccine mandates, masking mandates, & other public health measures that were so successful at ratcheting down case counts for a few more weeks, and been more diligent at getting third doses out to a higher proportion of the population, we could have safely lifted masking in indoor public spaces for fully-vaccinated individuals — meaning three doses, not two — without once again making more people sick, putting excess strain on the health care system, and creating COVID-related staff shortages in every workplace in the province.

    In my view, another 6-8 weeks of public health restrictions would probably have been sufficient to get this thing under control. But we — not just Alberta, but the entire country — let down our guard too soon.

    I’m reminded of a prescient quote by Canadian General Andy McNaughton upon learning of the 11 Nov 1918 Armistice ending the First World War: “Bloody fools … we have them in the run. That means we shall have to do it all over again in twenty-five years.” He was only off by four years … in the wrong direction. [Source: Berton, Pierre. (2001). Marching As to War, p. 213. Toronto: Doubleday]. We could have had this virus licked, but we stopped doing what we needed to do too soon.

  13. So non-Con journalists are “hostile, aggressive and willing to disregard standards and collude with almost any antagonist”?

    That sounds remarkably like the standard tactics of the Kochtopus dark-money Libertarian think tanks. I dunno, I’m just sayin’.

  14. It seems the government of Alberta has stopped showing the hospitalization numbers by shot status on their site. Kind of makes you wonder how bad those numbers have become, with the last available showing over 80% of hospitalizations among the vaxxed. The narrative that the mRNA shots help is crumbling, Shepherd really needs to tone down his hysterical rhetoric. It has become very clear by the numbers that the 1 in 5000 injury rate isn’t worth the risk anymore, calling the mRNA shots protection is ignoring reality at this point. That 1 in 5000 number is from the Ontario CMOH, hardly a right-wing antivaxer.

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