Hospital staff speak out over vaccine mandate firings

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A Toronto hospital lab technician who has had COVID-19 twice is speaking out over her frustrations with her employer’s plans to terminate her in early February for not receiving two doses of vaccine.

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“I don’t get where they’re coming from with this and why it is that you have to be forced to take the vaccine when you’ve already gotten the virus and already have your own immunity,” says Denise Grant-Balcharan, who has worked as a medical laboratory technologist for the past 15 years at Humber River Hospital.

A new study by the U.S. Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention found that natural immunity among unvaccinated people with a past infection was considered superior to vaccine-induced immunity in persons who had not yet had the virus. The report, however, also found that those who were vaccinated and had previously had the virus were in the best position.

“I’m not opposed to vaccines at all — I’m in science, that’s what I’ve done all my life,” says Grant-Balcharan. “What I’m opposed to is this tyranny to force people to take a vaccine.”

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The experienced technician says that she wasn’t given a chance to explain her situation to anyone and that her union is not offering any support. Instead, her employer has left her voicemails and says they will be sending her a letter in the mail.

Grant-Balcharan says it doesn’t make sense to let people go now, given that hospitals are short-staffed and there are already other protocols in place. “We’re not jeopardizing people’s health,” she adds.

The Toronto Sun asked Humber River Hospital (HRH) if management will reconsider its policy in light of the CDC report.

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“HRH policy is in alignment with similar policies of hospitals across Ontario and advice from Ontario’s Science Table,” said hospital spokesperson Joe Gorman in an email. “Given HRH provides care to some of Ontario’s most vulnerable patients, and has one of the highest admission rates of COVID+ patients, it is critical that our workforce be vaccinated to reduce transmission of COVID amongst both our patients, physicians staff, and volunteers.”

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But not all hospitals are pursuing the same policy. Hospitals in the Niagara Region have paused the implementation of their vaccine mandate and so far no staff have been terminated.

Grant-Balcharan isn’t the only one in her situation. Debbie Pitters, a lab technician with over 10 years experience at HRH, is also facing termination.

She’s previously had COVID and is not planning to get vaccinated but is fine with continuing to follow other protocols such as testing.

“Every week, twice a week, we had to do it and HR was calling you if you missed one,” she explains.

A frustrated Pitters complains the main rationale offered for the employer’s mandate is that it reduces spread of the virus — even though many officials now acknowledge that the vaccine does not limit transmission as much as they had hoped it would.

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“People are being informed and educated about what is happening in the system, and they’re standing up because they know they’re going to have the ball in their court to legally fight it,” says Pitters.

Lawyer Ryan O’Connor, who has worked on COVID-related cases in the courts, says some employees terminated due to vaccine mandates may have legal recourse.

“Breaching the vaccination policy does not necessarily reach that threshold of ‘terminated for cause,’ particularly because it’s a unilateral imposition of a new term of an employment policy that wasn’t agreed to by the employee.”

O’Connor says the case can be strengthened if a non-unionized employee was not provided a severance, demonstrated natural immunity, or was denied an accommodation requested under the Human Rights Code.

“If something is being given to me through coercion, then there is no moral basis for it,” adds Pitters.

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