Quebec has been hit hard by the third wave. In several regions, the load reduction is starting again, and again there are fears that the capacity of hospitals will be exceeded. This time, the patients are younger and are infected with more infectious and virulent variants. After more than a year of a pandemic and in an unstable epidemiological context, the hope for a way out of the crisis lies mainly in mass vaccinations.
The vaccination campaign continues and becomes available to the working population and therefore to people of working age. Some of them have already had to be absent several times in order to undergo examination, for a period of isolation or even for sick leave. Even more women have to combine work and family every day.
At the same time, there are more and more examples of employers giving up vaccination passes, including through health and education networks. Some workers, although the most vulnerable, have to reschedule or even cancel their assignments. From an epidemiological point of view, these situations are troubling.
The advent of new doses of vaccines is finally allowing the campaign to be extended to young people. This part of the population, often in the labor market, sometimes has children and may have a sick parent who needs their help. Thus, these people must combine work and family, sometimes in conditions of significant socio-economic instability. Therefore, it seems important to us that everything is done to guarantee quick and equitable access to vaccination.
Therefore, the idea of allowing vaccination during working hours without losing wages deserves consideration by both employers and the Quebec government.
This idea is gaining momentum around us. Saskatchewan created Special Vaccination Leave which allows workers to take vaccination leave without losing income.
British Columbia recently followed suit, and Alberta is considering that option. New York State quickly passed legislation guaranteeing four paid hours for public and private sector employees.
Private employers are also spontaneously mobilizing. Large companies like Canada Goose, Bureau en gros or Bank of Montreal have indeed announced they will release their workers for vaccinations. An SME in the Quebec region has gone even further and is guaranteeing its employees two paid days off!
This measure is also gaining support in the scientific community: the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a scientific organization primarily in the United States, also formally recommends employers to offer their employees hours of paid vacation time to get vaccinated.
The reason for this move is simple: The financial stress faced by employers who pay their employees a few hours to get vaccinated is clearly being supplanted by a reduction in absenteeism for testing, isolation, or even sick leave due to COVID-19.
Remember, most COVID-19 outbreaks currently occur in the workplace. Not all workplaces are suitable for remote work, most of the population has been exposed to the virus for over a year to ensure the smooth functioning of our society.
These initiatives not only remove constraints that unnecessarily lengthen vaccination times for those who need it most. Quebec, which relies on affirmative action to achieve adequate vaccination coverage, should not deprive itself of this additional incentive.
Vaccination is a civic duty, but it is the responsibility of employers and governments to do whatever it takes to enable the most vulnerable people to have quick and unrestricted access to vaccines.
In the current conditions, it is necessary to use all possible means to vaccinate the population. Preventing employment from becoming a barrier to vaccination is an intervention that protects people, protects the health network, and collectively helps us get out of it faster.
We hope, like everyone else, that the current effort will be the last. Let’s do our best to get there. Let’s remove all barriers to vaccination.