The decision came in extremis after 10 p.m. Tuesday evening.
Mandatory vaccination for healthcare workers would be postponed for one month, to November 15. The next day, shortly after dawn, the summons was sent to the media.
Patients and professionals in the health network are discouraged, and I understand them. But their frustration should be channeled to the right place.
The culprits are the employees who still refuse to be vaccinated and those who have done too little to convince them. First, the unions, which, since the parliamentary committee in August, have held an ambiguous message on this subject. And, to a lesser extent, the professional orders, which waited until the last minute before announcing the revocation of the work permits of the unvaccinated.
Only the College of Physicians has been proactive, warning a month ago that an unvaccinated doctor could no longer practice his profession. For nurses, nursing assistants and respiratory therapists, the message was less clear. Until last week, their recalcitrant members hoped to work remotely or privately from the entry into force of the compulsory vaccination.
That said, Mr. Dubé’s turnaround is surprising.
I don’t want to present as predictable a decision that I didn’t see coming.
The time between the two doses of vaccine is one month. This means that in mid-September, Quebec could estimate the number of employees who would not be adequately vaccinated as of October 15, and therefore the approximate impact of their suspension on care. Despite everything, the decree on compulsory vaccination was adopted earlier this month.
Mr. Dubé received last week the contingency plans of the CISSS and CIUSSS, with projections by establishment and by department. The Crisis Staff came to the obvious: the plan was not working. More than 22,400 employees did not receive their two doses. Services would have been reduced by 35% in CHSLDs. Home care was reportedly affected in half of the regions, prompting even more people to go to the emergency room, where beds were already lacking.
To be stubborn would have been irresponsible. Some have spoken of improvisation. I see it more as crisis governance. We adjust according to the context, even if it means contradicting ourselves. It requires humility. It is better than proud stubbornness.
Perhaps Mr. Dubé saw this postponement coming without daring to say it, for fear of slowing down the vaccination of workers who were still hesitant. If so, that makes its attacks on the Parti Québécois, which was worried about service disruptions, inelegant.
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It would be too easy to cry failure.
This would be forgetting that following the announcement of the measure, the number of unvaccinated employees in the network was almost halved. At the end of August, they were 43,461. There are now 22,446 left.
True, by postponing his threat, Mr. Dubé risks losing credibility. But in this case, the sanction would have made collateral victims, the patients left without care. It was them that he thought of.
In addition, part of the punishment is upheld. As of Friday, unvaccinated workers will lose their COVID bonus, which raised their wages from 4% to 8%. And of course, these people will be tested every other day.
Despite the selfish victory cry of their radicalized factions, anti-vaccines have not quite won.
Mr. Dubé will have to reassess the situation before confirming the entry into force of the compulsory vaccination on November 15. If he backs down once more, he will no longer be taken seriously.
How can we believe that the picture will improve in just one month? It relies on the administration of the third dose in CHSLDs, the vaccination of 5 to 11 year olds expected for November, the drop in the number of COVID-19 cases and the arrival of reinforcements. For the moment, a little more than 1000 professionals have answered his call. A recruitment blitz abroad has also started, as Radio-Canada reported on Wednesday.
It might or might not be okay.
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Beyond the immediate service disruptions, Mr. Dubé must have been worried by the acceleration of the vicious circle of working conditions.
The suspension of the unvaccinated would have worsened the use of compulsory overtime by nurses, and therefore increased sick leave and early retirement.
The Minister believes he can slow down this spiral thanks to the new collective agreements, which have just come into force. They are supposed to offer the first choice of schedule to public employees, not to private agencies.
We’ll see if that works soon, and I wouldn’t be surprised if more announcements come on this.
The Caquista government did not want to sabotage its recruitment drive. Neither his inaugural speech scheduled for next Tuesday, which will launch the pre-election campaign.
But sooner or later, it will be necessary to crack down on these employees of the health network who endanger their colleagues and their patients by refusing to be vaccinated. Because, obviously, these people have chosen the wrong profession.