With Oct. 1 and the Saskatchewan government’s COVID-19 proof-of-vaccination policy fast approaching, some organizations have weighed in on what this policy will mean for residents who can’t be fully vaccinated for medical purposes — and those who choose not to.
The proof-of-vaccination or negative test policy was first announced by the provincial government on Sept. 16 to address rising case rates.
In the month of September, Saskatchewan has seen case rates and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 soar higher than they ever have in the pandemic.
Health officials report daily that a majority of residents testing positive for COVID-19 are unvaccinated.
On Sunday, 72 per cent of new COVID-19 cases reported were residents 12 and older who were unvaccinated.
Because of rising cases among the unvaccinated, the provincial government is following the footsteps of other provinces such as Ontario and Alberta by bringing in proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirements for several establishments.
Where will I have to show proof of vaccination or a negative test?
Effective Oct. 1, residents will need to show proof they are fully vaccinated or have tested negative for COVID-19 at restaurants (indoor dining), nightclubs, bars, taverns and other licensed establishments.
This requirement will also be in place for event and entertainment venues, including conference centres, casinos, movie theatres, concert venues, live-music venues, museums and indoor facilities hosting ticketed sporting events. Indoor fitness centres and gyms will also need to see proof of vaccination or a negative test from customers.
Where will proof of vaccination not be required?
Residents will not need to show proof of vaccination or negative tests at retail businesses — including grocery stores, places of worship, fast food restaurants offering takeout and delivery, health-care services, professional or personal services, hotels or other lodgings.
Proof of vaccination will also not be required at facilities hosting non-ticketed amateur sporting events, including youth athletics and recreational leagues, business meetings and places of business closed to the general public, unless otherwise directed by the business or employer, private gatherings held at an indoor public residence, and private gatherings held at indoor public venues such as weddings and funerals.
Who will be exempt from this policy?
Children under the age of 12 are exempt from both the proof-of-vaccination and negative test requirement.
In an email to Global News, the health ministry said other exemptions would be determined in consultation with medical practitioners.
“At this time, the Government of Saskatchewan is still working with a variety of stakeholders to determine the final guidance regarding a proof-of-vaccination or negative test requirement. We will have more details closer to Oct 1.,” the health ministry said.
What does the Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission say about the policy?
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission has weighed in on the debate of whether or not vaccine policies are discriminatory.
“Vaccine mandates requiring proof of vaccination or negative testing are generally permissible under the (Saskatchewan Human Rights Code, 2018), so long as individuals who are unable to be vaccinated due to a Code-protected characteristic are reasonably accommodated,” the commission wrote on its website.
The Code does not protect those who are objected to getting the vaccine due to personal preference.
“An individual who chooses not to be vaccinated based on personal preference does not have the right to accommodation under the Code.”
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission acknowledged that there are some individuals who are unable to receive the COVID-19 vaccine due to a reason protected by the Code, such as a disability.
“Employers and service providers have a duty to reasonably accommodate them, to the point of undue hardship.”
The human rights commission further explained that accommodation will differ on a case-by-case basis.
“Employers and service providers must balance the duty to accommodate with any resulting health and safety risks.”
Testing requirements for COVID-19 “may meet the duty to accommodate,” the human rights commission added.
For individuals who require accommodation, they may need to provide medical information to support the request.
The Saskatchewan Human Rights Commission added that they will not accept a complaint based on personal objection to vaccinations or vaccination mandates.
Do private businesses, such as restaurants or gyms, have a duty to accommodate?
In an email to Global News, the human rights commission further explained that a duty to accommodate “does not necessarily require that an individual be exempted from vaccine mandates.”
“Reasonable accommodation must be assessed on an individual basis in accordance with the specific circumstances of the situation.”
There may be some circumstances where a reasonable accommodation includes accepting medical exemption. It may also take other forms such as COVID-19 testing requirements, delivery options, alternative hours of service or remote delivery of services.
The accommodation offered may not be perfect or preferred by the individual. When it comes to assessing an accommodation request, employers and service providers “must balance the duty to accommodate with any resulting health and safety risks.”
If granting an accommodation would create an undue hardship, an employer or service provider will not be required to do so. For example, if the accommodation would create an unacceptable health and safety risk.
Is collection of personal vaccination information protected by the Code?
The collection of information about vaccination status is not protected by the Code. The commission added that where such information is collected, “it constitutes personal medical information and must be collected and stored in a manner consistent with privacy legislation.”
Can a letter from my doctor exempt me from the vaccine mandate?
The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Saskatchewan (CPSS) has provided guidance to its members on providing supporting documents to individuals who are unable to get the vaccine due to medical reasons.
Dr. Karen Shaw, Registrar of CPSS said it’s “unfortunate” that across the country, people are referring to such documents as letters of exemption.
“Physicians are really providing the contraindications as to why somebody might not be able to receive a vaccination,” Shaw said at the Sept. 23 Saskatchewan Health Authority town hall meeting for physicians.
“The physician is really not exempting anyone from anything. These letters of contraindication cannot be used to exempt them from the rules that exist, whether they be public health orders or whether they be border crossing rules or any other rules that businesses may put into place.”
When it comes to providing a patient with a letter, Shaw said physicians should limit it to contraindications that are known about COVID-19 vaccines.
This can include a severe allergy or anaphylactic reaction to a previous dose of a COVID-19 vaccine dose or any of its components that cannot be mitigated — confirmed by a physician.
A diagnosed episode of myocarditis/pericarditis after receiving an mRNA vaccine is also a recognized contraindication.
Any note or letter should include the reason why a patient cannot be vaccinated against COVID-19, with “an absolute or relative contraindication” and the time frame which this would apply, such as permanent, time-limited or indeterminate.”
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