Alberta Health Services (AHS) has rescinded the Immunization of Workers for COVID-19 Policy, effective July 18. The policy initially required all AHS healthcare workers to be immunized against COVID-19 as a condition of employment.
Current AHS staff, as well as new employees and students, will no longer be required to be vaccinated for COVID-19 upon hire or placement, according to an AHS press release.
AHS stated they recognize vaccines provide protection against serious illnesses related to COVID-19, but noted emerging evidence that suggests one dose of an approved one-dose vaccine or two doses of an approved two-dose vaccine has become less protective against infection due to evolving COVID-19 variants.
“The COVID-19 vaccines available to date target the original strain of the virus and the virus has evolved since then,” read the July 18 press release.
According to the release, the original AHS policy was enacted when the Delta variant was the dominant strain and the immunization required by the policy was highly effective in protecting the health and safety of workers and patients by limiting the spread of COVID-19.
However, current evidence shows that initial COVID-19 vaccines without boosters have limited effectiveness in reducing the transmission of the Omicron variants, which is currently the most dominant strain.
“We continue to recommend COVID-19 immunization, including all booster doses available, to all of our healthcare workers as part of our overall approach to protect patients and one another,” said Mauro Chiles, the interim president and CEO of AHS in a press release. “The safety of our patients and healthcare works is of the utmost importance to AHS.”
Interacting with the general public, healthcare workers have an ethical and professional responsibility to protect others and immunization still proves to be a very effective tool to protect communities, read the press release.
Additionally, AHS said booster doses enhance the effectiveness of initial doses and help protect against decreasing immunity.
To continue to protect the well-being of others, AHS is still implementing safety measures within their facilities, including required masking by patients, guests and staff, practicing hand hygiene, and requiring staff to stay home when sick. These evidence-based measures will help limit the potential of COVID-19 transmission, according to the AHS press release.
AHS said they will closely monitor scientific evidence to assess the need for additional safety measures.
“We are extremely grateful to all of those healthcare workers who are fully immunized,” Chies said. “The immunization policy was implemented to protect patients, healthcare workers, and the public at a time during the pandemic when the immunization required by the policy was still effective in preventing transmission and when it was needed most to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
“Policies and procedures have had to constantly evolve during the pandemic to reflect significant changes in the virus itself and the ever-changing evidence base as we continue to protect our people and patients.”
AHS continues to encourage healthcare workers and all Albertans to review current evidence from reputable sources to make an informed decision about getting immunized.
“The COVID-19 vaccines and boosters remain very important in preventing serious illness and deaths from COVID-19,” read the release.