More than three weeks after Manitoba announced it would require all provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations to either be fully immunized by Oct. 31 or face regular testing, the public health order making it mandatory has not been finalized.

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More than three weeks after Manitoba announced it would require all provincial employees who work with vulnerable populations to either be fully immunized by Oct. 31 or face regular testing, the public health order making it mandatory has not been finalized.

On Aug. 24, then-premier Brian Pallister, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin all said mandatory vaccinations — including doctors and nurses, teachers and school support staff, child care workers and people working at group homes or other congregate residential settings — were necessary to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19.

As of Wednesday, nothing had been signed. The public health order wasn't in force.

Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

Health and Seniors Care Minister Audrey Gordon. (Alex Lupul / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"These steps are necessary to protect children in Manitoba, avoid another lockdown, and keep our health-care system safe from a fourth wave of COVID-19 and the dangerous delta variant," Pallister said at the time.

Roussin also encouraged private businesses and organizations to follow the province's lead with mandating vaccinations.

The proposed order had deadlines, including: first doses needed to be taken by Sept. 7 (the first day of school), with the second to be done by Oct. 17, so all would be fully vaccinated by Oct. 31.

A provincial government spokeswoman said Wednesday: "Detailed work is underway on the public health order for the sectors announced on August 24 and on the guidance to support it."

"We'll be sharing more details when they are finalized. Our focus is on ensuring that designated workers have time to be vaccinated and so the priority was to communicate that direction as soon as possible," she said.

The spokeswoman did not answer the question whether the province would be changing the dates in the initial announcement. She said if there are Manitobans who don't know if they will be required to undergo regular testing, they should get the vaccine now, because anyone with proof of full immunization won't need to be tested.

"We'll be sharing more details when they are finalized. Our focus is on ensuring that designated workers have time to be vaccinated and so the priority was to communicate that direction as soon as possible." ‐ provincial government spokeswoman

Michelle Gawronsky, president of Manitoba Government and General Employees' Union (which boasts some 32,000 members), said not seeing the public health act in writing makes it hard for the union to even talk to membership about what to do.

"Although three weeks have passed since the province announced its intention to have an immunization and testing policy for the civil service, no written policy has been provided," said Gawronsky.

"This makes it difficult for our union to help members navigate the new policy. It also leaves us unable to determine if the policy is consistent with the collective agreement and adequately protects the personal health information of employees."

Gawronsky said the union does support the recommendations of public health officials on the provincewide immunization campaign and is continuing to urge its members to be immunized.

"When combined with appropriate PPE and workplace safety protocols, immunization is known to be one of the most powerful tools we have to keep people safe," she said.

NDP health critic Uzoma Asagwara flagged the issue after hearing from people involved in long-term care.

"The concern was raised that they have received zero information for how they are supposed to navigate these health orders with vaccines and with testing," said Asagwara.

"At this point, the fact the (Tory) government doesn't have a clear order signed and disseminated is a reflection of their complete incompetence. It's almost as if they have thrown their hands up in the air and have their fingers crossed we'll somehow get through this.

"It is mind-boggling."

On Aug. 24, then-premier Brian Pallister, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin all said mandatory vaccinations were necessary to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19. (David Lipnowski / The Canadian Press files)

On Aug. 24, then-premier Brian Pallister, Health Minister Audrey Gordon and chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin all said mandatory vaccinations were necessary to combat the fourth wave of COVID-19. (David Lipnowski / The Canadian Press files)

Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont said the public health order should have been signed when it was announced.

"The PCs need to explain exactly why it wasn't," said Lamont. "Public health has to come before politics, which it hasn’t for the entire pandemic... Whatever the reason, this is negligence that is going to lead to more cases in a health-care system that can’t handle it."

Meantime, Jan Legeros, executive director of the Long Term & Continuing Care Association of Manitoba, said the organization, "applauds government for their leadership and positive approach as seen in the new public health orders, which include mandatory vaccinations."

"There are a great deal of logistical challenges being worked out... and a provincial group is working on this to get this in place ASAP," said Legeros. "I would hope that staff and others are following the spirit of the order poised to be signed. I am sure that is being encouraged."

However, at least two organizations representing health-related professionals have adopted a wait-and-see stance.

"Public health has to come before politics, which it hasn’t for the entire pandemic... Whatever the reason, this is negligence that is going to lead to more cases in a health-care system that can’t handle it." ‐ Manitoba Liberal Leader Dougald Lamont

Rafi Mohammed, chief executive officer of the Manitoba Dental Association, and Cheryl Bayer, registrar of the Manitoba Association of Optometrists, said while members continue to follow public health orders, the organizations want to see the final version of the public health order before making any decisions — including whether to recommend mandatory vaccinations or not.

"Our board is deliberating it during the next couple of meetings," said Mohammed. "We continue to follow the province's regulations."

"We expect to see the public health order soon," Bayer said. "We will review it when we see it."

The Manitoba Chiropractors Association has already made its decision.

"The vaccine mandate does not apply to health professionals such as chiropractors who work in private clinics, provided they do not also work in any public setting funded by government (Shared Health, CancerCare Manitoba, regional health authorities)," said executive director Karen Woloschuk.

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

Kevin Rollason

Kevin Rollason
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Kevin Rollason is one of the more versatile reporters at the Winnipeg Free Press. Whether it is covering city hall, the law courts, or general reporting, Rollason can be counted on to not only answer the 5 Ws — Who, What, When, Where and Why — but to do it in an interesting and accessible way for readers.

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