Health spokesperson Amy Crofts told The Epoch Times that the government’s "measures taken to combat the ongoing public-health emergency remain important." The province maintains that complete vaccination against COVID-19 is a must unless workers obtain an exemption from the provincial health officer.
"The trajectory of the pandemic over the next few months is uncertain as there is still significant spread of the COVID virus in the province and around the world," writes Crofts in a January 25 email.
But some rural mayors are pleading with the province to end the mandate to bolster staffing levels amid critical shortages that have sometimes closed their emergency rooms.
A group of 37 mayors formed the BC Rural Health Care Alliance, vying to solve healthcare shortages in their communities. They participated in a conference call with the Health Ministry and raised the issue of terminating unvaccinated nurses as a cause for some scarcity.
Health Minister Adrian Dix denied the mandate causes the shortages, adding that people are not coming to work when sick.
Merritt Mayor Michael Goetz told the Vancouver Sun that its Nicola Valley Hospital suffered from acute staffing shortages that temporarily shut it down four times since Christmas 2022, including one day overnight, from Sunday, January 8 at 6:30 pm to Monday, January 9 at 7:00 am.
They diverted patients to Kamloops or Kelowna in the event of an emergency.
"The issue on healthcare staffing challenges is COVID-19. It’s not the mandate," said Dix, who added that 99% of full-time healthcare workers were vaccinated.
Crofts told The Epoch Times that BC terminated 2,496 employees across the province "due to non-compliance with the provincial health officer’s Hospital and Community COVID-19 Vaccination Status Information and Preventive Measures order."
Approximately half of those workers fired for not getting the COVID jab worked in the Interior and Northern Health regions, where emergency room closures and shortages made headlines last year.
As of Spring 2022, 908 staff working for interior health (3.84% of the workforce) and 297 employees (3%) from Northern Health received the boot for not getting the jab. A government note clarified that some staff terminated did not hold medical positions.
In 2022, 13 rural hospitals temporarily closed their emergency rooms serving communities under 10,000.
A hospital near Slocan, BC, in New Denver shut down multiple times last year and ultimately reduced its operating hours from 8 am to 8 pm. The hospital recently closed its emergency room on January 20.
Clearwater, BC, suffered the most from emergency room closures, shutting down 62 times.
On November 4, 2022, hundreds of nurses attended a rally in Vancouver to raise awareness about the severe staffing shortages.
BC Nurses’ Union President Aman Grewal said in a speech that some hospitals were reportedly short-staffed from 50% to 70%, resulting in nurses being forced to work overtime, even 24-hour shifts.
Crofts said the vaccine mandate stays "to protect the province’s most vulnerable and the overall healthcare system."