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Opinion: A lot of B.C. workers seem ready to get fired over COVID-19 vaccinations

It is puzzling why so many people with scientific training have refused the vaccine.
COVID-19 vaccine
A male is about to receive a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine. - Photograph via Getty Images

There are more than 400,000 unvaccinated eligible people in B.C. and most of them are slowly discovering the consequences of their inaction when it comes to not being immunized from COVID-19.

They cannot go to restaurants for a meal, travel by plane or train, or attend many sporting and cultural events.

Many of them, however, are going to discover they face an even more serious consequence for refusing the vaccine: the loss of their jobs.

Vaccination mandates are expanding in scope and number, and they will cover thousands of people.

This week, more than 5,000 health-care workers were expected to be placed on unpaid leave because they have yet to receive a single dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the Oct. 26 deadline.

Already more than 1,700 long-term care staff – including almost 400 nurses – have been placed on leave because of their non-vaccinated status.

It is puzzling why so many people with scientific training have refused the vaccine. In long-term care, the refusal rate is the same for both nurses and food service employees.

To estimate how many other employees in other sectors with looming vaccination mandates may soon be out of a job, it is useful to look at the numbers in both the health-care sector and the long-term care sector.

The vaccination rates among employees in both sectors is around 96% (although only 93% in the Interior). On the one hand, that is an impressively high figure but on the other, it also translates into literally thousands and thousands of unvaccinated staff potentially losing employment.

For example, there are roughly 130,000 employees in B.C.’s health-care sector. This includes all medical staff, support staff and administration.

So while an unvaccinated rate of just 4% seems small, when it is applied to such a large pool of people, it can produce a big number. Hence, the 5,000-plus health-care workers placed on unpaid leave.

If that 4% unvaccinated rate turns out to be the average in other sectors, that works out to roughly 1,200 B.C. government employees losing their jobs on Nov. 22, when their mandate takes effect and about 240 Vancouver civic workers suffering the same fate on Dec. 6.

Of course, these numbers will be much smaller if enough people covered by these mandates come to their senses and get a vaccine that has been proven safe and effective for billions of people around the world.

In addition, it is reasonable to think that many unvaccinated people, when faced with the harsh reality that accompanies the loss of a paying job and financial benefits, will do just that. Perhaps the federal government’s announcement that these folks will not qualify for unemployment insurance will cause some to reconsider.

We can only hope so.

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how many school districts impose their own vaccine mandates on teachers and other school workers. If the 4% average for unvaccinated staff that we’ve seen in health care is mirrored in the K-12 sector, hundreds of teachers could be added to the “on leave” crowd.

The consequences for refusing the vaccine are getting harsher.

Keith Baldrey is chief political reporter for Global BC.