Employers offer immunization exemptions for ‘whooping cough’

Employers with a need for staff are now giving people who have opted out of vaccines fair employment and access to unvaccinated babies in Alberta Canadian employers and workers are banding together to combat…

Employers offer immunization exemptions for 'whooping cough'

Employers with a need for staff are now giving people who have opted out of vaccines fair employment and access to unvaccinated babies in Alberta

Canadian employers and workers are banding together to combat an increasing public health risk of whooping cough, a virus that causes vomiting and breathing problems, by giving exemptions to unvaccinated workers.

Employers are recognizing that they cannot just hire people who want to be exempt from vaccinating against whooping cough, a national public health concern in Canada. Health care workers who work in personal care or in childcare facilities are especially vulnerable to infections and outbreaks due to the unvaccinated babies who stay in their care.

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The number of hospitalizations among unvaccinated individuals increased by more than a third to 3,100 last year, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada. In 2015, it became the number one cause of death from the disease, the agency said.

The Alberta Labour Department said on Monday that a letter was sent to employers in Alberta providing them with guidelines on how to comply with the law. The guideline states that workplaces are permitted to follow their individual human resource policies regarding exemptions for children, including whether or not to hold an optional mandatory immunization clinic for unvaccinated children if health authorities ask.

Jo-Anne Arsenault, a spokeswoman for Alberta Labour, told the Guardian that the letter had been sent following a public inquiry about legal recourse for employers who allow immunization exemptions for people who don’t want their children to receive vaccinations.

“It is still up to employers to determine policy and procedure regarding employee immunization exemption in particular child-care facilities. But it is our responsibility to provide guidance and guidance here in this province,” she said.

Arsenault said the letter may not affect an employer’s ability to hire a person who doesn’t want to vaccinate his or her child. However, “the workplace may no longer have access to an exemption so the employee is unable to vaccinate his or her child as an employee”.

Businesses are not required to notify the public when they give exemptions or if an employer cancels an employee’s work authorization if they skip an immunization clinic.

It has been revealed that dozens of Alberta Health Services workers had worked after they had opted out of vaccinating their children. But it appears that few of them chose to disclose their child’s exemption from vaccines.

Lisa Marquette, a pharmacist, was fired last year after she refused to hold an immunization clinic for unvaccinated children and told reporters that even working in this profession made her nervous.

“I think it’s a fact that the parents of these babies still need to know they are protected, and they need to respect that,” she said.

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She lost her job after she refused to carry out a program to immunize unvaccinated children at the Provincial Clinical School at the University of Alberta, where she was the resident pharmacist. The school held an immunization clinic on a Saturday, which has since been cancelled.

Ruth Johnson, a vice-president of business development at Alberta Health Services, told the CBC on Monday that the department was considering introducing new rules to address exemptions.

“What we would do, and what is being considered is to make that information more available to health care providers who are offering services to the public. So that’s something that could be looked at by the government,” she said.

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