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NS keeps unvaccinated health workers off the job as NB, feds bring people back

Immunologist Dr. Shirin Kalyan laid out the conditions under which a vaccine mandate might be justified.

The first test rested on evidence. Clear evidence that the “vaccines we’re using reliably prevent disease and its transmission,” Dr. Kalyan told the House of Commons all-party committee meeting this spring.

As of now that evidence doesn’t exist, explained Dr. Kalyan, an adjunct professor at the University of British Columbia medical school.

“It is clear, especially with Omicron, that the vaccines we have cannot really be relied upon to prevent either transmission or infection,” she said.


“Having a false sense of security has obvious negative consequences.”

– Dr Shirin Kalyan


“As an example, the first Omicron case in Israel came from a triple-vaccinated doctor returning from a conference, who passed it on to another triple-vaccinated physician.”

From there, the immunologist pointed out that Omicron spread into many countries by way of fully vaccinated, often boosted, people.

It was an opportunity, the professor argued, for governments to revisit blanket mandates and move quickly to lift restrictions that provided little in the way of public health benefit.

Dr. Kalyan presented at the federal health committee on March 23. Five days later New Brunswick would lift its vaccine mandate requiring health-care workers to be double vaccinated. It would take the federal government two and half more months to end the same double vaccine requirement for public servants and transportation workers.

They’ll be back to work on Monday.

In Nova Scotia unvaccinated health-care workers without a valid exemption have been off the job since the end of November. There’s no evidence that the government intends to lift the mandate any time soon.

Health Minister Michelle Thompson told The Chronicle Herald on Wednesday that her department, including public health, is continuing to review the policy.

“We want to do what’s best for folks,” said Thompson. “We will continue to have discussions about when and if we’re able to make changes.”

We have to look at a variety of things, she said. But Thompson did not elaborate.

In her presentation back in March, Dr. Kalyan pointed to mounting evidence about the limited protection vaccines provide. Data from Ontario and other jurisdictions from around the world show that vaccine effectiveness disappears by the end of the second month in those who are fully vaccinated, she said. Boosters appear to show a similar rapid timeline for waning.

She said governments have an obligation to communicate the evolving evidence to the public.


Health Minister Michelle Thompson says Nova Scotia is continuing to review the vaccine policy for health-care workers.  -Ryan Taplin/File
Health Minister Michelle Thompson says Nova Scotia is continuing to review the vaccine policy for health-care workers. -Ryan Taplin/File

“This is necessary for public trust,” said Kalyan. “It is also good for public health to have a well-informed populace. Having a false sense of security has obvious negative consequences.”

The Herald wanted to know how the mandate has impacted the province’s health care system. We asked the Nova Scotia government for the number of health-care workers off the job but the full total was not provided.

Nova Scotia Health reported in February that 263 health-care workers were off the job without pay because of their vaccination status. On Friday the department provided incomplete answers to questions about health staffers still not working and what jobs were going unfilled.

Nova Scotia Health said in an email that 95 health workers have yet to report their vaccine status and another 39 “have an incomplete record.” The Health Authority would not say how many of those workers are off the job or provide a breakdown of their job positions.

There are hundreds more health-care workers in Nova Scotia. IWK employs a range of health-care workers, including more doctors, nurses and technicians. Others work in long-term care. The Herald asked the province’s Department of Health for the total number of health-care workers off the job but it did not provide the figure.

In April, Nova Scotia Health reported more than 600 health-care workers were off because of COVID protocols. They had either tested positive for the virus, we’re awaiting test results or someone in their home had it. Seven nurses at the Dartmouth Regional Hospital were off with COVID in late March. The Herald obtained a copy of an email sent out to local hospital nurses asking them to fill those shifts. The email was dated March 24.


“Where I work there are three nurses that are just sitting at home when they could be working full time right now.”

– Unvaccinated health-care worker


The Herald spoke to a licensed practical nurse in Digby who’s been off the job since Nov. 30. The woman asked that we not use her name because she feared losing her job. She said she’s among three nurses at Tideview Terrace nursing home in Digby who are on unpaid leave.

She said last week she was hopeful that the province would follow Ottawa’s lead and drop the mandate. The woman said she made a personal choice not to get vaccinated. But she said she’s willing to take alternative measures to protect herself and others from the virus, whether wearing PPE or undergoing regular testing for the virus.

“I’ve told my employer this but there is no compromising at all. As far as I’m concerned we’re just being punished for not getting vaccinated. But it’s our patients that are really paying the price.”

“Where I work there are three nurses that are just sitting at home when they could be working full time right now.”

The Herald spoke to another Halifax area nurse who’s also been off the job for almost seven months. The woman works at a hospital in the municipality. The woman cried sharing her experience of her on unpaid leave. She against talking to the Herald because she feared losing her job decided for good.

The province is facing a serious nursing shortage. Last month there were more than 800 registered nurse vacancies alone.


An unvaccinated health-care worker says she would wear PPE or undergo regular testing for the virus to allow her to go back to her job.
An unvaccinated health-care worker says she would wear PPE or undergo regular testing for the virus to allow her to go back to her job.

Rafael Gomez, a professor of employment relations at the University of Toronto, says the province’s vaccine mandate is illogical. Gomez, who’s also an expert in workplace health and safety, points to evidence that vaccines simply do not stop transmission. But it’s also widely understood that two vaccines do not provide adequate protection from the virus.

“It’s illogical to maintain a two-course vaccine when we know that’s no longer in the cards as being an effective defense against a respiratory virus that mutates,” said Gomez.

“Is this mandate rational given the state of the health care system in Nova Scotia? Is it rational given what we know now about the efficacy of the vaccines in light of the new variants? Is it rational that people coming into the health-care profession will have to be potentially subjected to endless so-called mandates? The answer is no, no, no.”

Gomez says ultimately the province’s vaccine mandate is unsustainable. What would be, he says, is a more nuanced policy that’s less coercive and respects people’s own autonomy. He says the mandate should be substituted with a policy that prioritizes proper ventilation in hospitals and other health care settings, flexibility for workers to stay home when they’re sick. But also recognizing natural immunity as a legitimate defense against the virus. The two nurses the Herald spoke to both say they contracted COVID-19.

Like Gomez, Dr. Kalyan believes natural immunity provides as much or more protection than any vaccine. She said so in her presentation to the House of Commons committee in March.

“Recent data from the US (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) confirms that vaccinating those who have infection-acquired immunity really provides them no real additional benefit,” said Dr. Kalyan.

“Thus, these already immune individuals are primarily being exposed to unnecessary risks, as rare as they may be. They’re also more likely to experience adverse effects following vaccination.”

With files from Aaron Beswick

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