Alberta Health Services says it is rescinding its COVID-19 immunization policy for its workers.
The agency says all workers, including new hires and students, will no longer be required to have at least two vaccine doses. AHS had previously lifted its mandate for staff, but kept a policy requiring immunization for new hires.
It says vaccines continue to provide strong protection against serious effects from COVID-19, but there is emerging evidence that the shots have become less protective against infection.
AHS says COVID-19 vaccines available to date target the original strain of the virus.
It says evidence shows that immunization without boosters has limited effectiveness in reducing transmission of the Omicron variants currently circulating.
When asked why AHS didn’t opt to change the definition of “fully vaccinated” and require all available booster doses, Kerry Williamson, executive director of issues management at AHS, said in an email that the agency needs stronger evidence about the effectiveness of additional booster doses with highly infectious Omicron subvariants circulating.
Williamson said AHS “didn’t feel there was sufficient scientific evidence to demonstrate reduced transmission with a single booster dose.”
The agency says its workforce continues to be required to stay home when sick, wear required personal protective equipment and practise hand hygiene.
“The immunization policy was implemented to protect patients, health-care 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,” Mauro Chies, the interim president and CEO of AHS, said in a statement Monday.
“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 says it will continue to monitor scientific evidence to assess the need for additional measures.
In a news release, Alberta NDP health critic David Shepherd said the decision to drop the vaccine doesn’t make sense.
“Anyone who is being cared for in a health facility should have the assurance that staff are vaccinated against COVID-19, among many other diseases,” he said. “It is absurd that protection against COVID-19 is being removed from the list of required vaccinations for new AHS staff. This virus has killed more than 4,600 Albertans, and patients in hospitals and long-term care facilities are most at risk.”