Mandatory COVID-19 vaccination or rapid testing of current Alberta Health Services (AHS) staff will no longer be required as of March 10 at 4 p.m., Alberta Health Minister Jason Copping said Tuesday.
During a press conference, Copping said with COVID-19 cases continuing to decline and with more than 97 per cent of AHS employees and 99.8 per cent of physicians now fully vaccinated, the Immunization of Workers for COVID-19 Policy is no longer needed, he said.
“This directive covers the employees of AHS, its subsidiaries, members of the medical and midwifery staff, students and instructors, volunteers and applicable contracted service providers, including those working on AHS sites, and separate providers under contract,” said Copping.
“AHS will no longer require unvaccinated employees to do mandatory rapid testing. This change is in line with policies in other jurisdictions, including Manitoba and Quebec.”
Current workers who are unvaccinated and on a leave of absence will be able to return to work after March 10 at 4 p.m., he said, noting a return to work plan will be worked out between workers and their workplace leaders.
“AHS continues to recommend COVID-19 immunization to all its staff, and will continue to work with those who chose not to get immunized to address their concerns, answer their questions and educate them about the importance of immunization and vaccine effectiveness,” he said.
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In response to the ending of the AHS vaccination requirement, NDP health critic David Shepherd said the move is being driven not by science but by politics.
“I am deeply disturbed by the UCP’s decision to remove COVID-19 vaccination requirements for health-care workers,” said Shepherd. “Albertans who are at most risk to COVID-19 in hospitals should have the assurance that the staff caring for them are vaccinated against this deadly virus.
“Clinical decisions should be made by health-care professionals, not desperate politicians. The UCP continues to be beholden to an extremist fringe, including the people who participated in the dangerous and illegal blockade at Coutts, which caused almost a billion dollars in damage to the Alberta economy.”
During Tuesday’s press conference, Minister Copping also announced that COVID-19 booster shots are being made available for youth 12-17 years of age starting on March 14.
“As restrictions on youth activity have ended and more normal school life resumes, I encourage parents and guardians to consider getting their children boosters based on their family’s individual circumstances,” he said.
Youth under the age of 18 require permission from a parent or guardian to be vaccinated.
On Tuesday there were 1,106 patients in hospital with COVID-19, including 77 in intensive care units. There were seven deaths of people with COVID-19 reported to AHS in the past 24 hours.