The Yukon Employees’ Union is calling on the Yukon government to ensure workers don’t need to use sick days if they have reactions to the Moderna vaccine.
Steve Geick, president of the union, said starting on Feb. 5 he began receiving concerned calls from around 20 separate staff members working at continuing care facilities in the territory.
Geick said he was told three out of five workers at the Thomson Centre called in sick. The Yukon government said that overall, 10 per cent of continuing care staff were home from work following the clinic.
The Yukon government said it anticipated the side effects and planned accordingly.
“The shots have been staggered with staff across different care homes to mitigate impact of too many people having potential side effects post vaccine,” said Pat Living, spokesperson for the Department of Health and Social Services, in a statement.
Temporary side-effects from the second dose are an anticipated part of the vaccine.
The vaccine does not contain the live virus or make a person more vulnerable to sickness, but it does trigger an immune response that can mimic COVID-19 symptoms while the body builds immunity. Most commonly the response can produce a headache, fatigue or localized pain and muscle aches.
These symptoms are normal and indicate that the vaccine is working.
The staff — mostly nurses, according to Geick — said they received conflicting advice from supervisors after calling in sick following their second dose of the Moderna vaccine.
Geick said some were advised to call 811 for instruction, while others were told to wait for contact from Yukon Communicable Disease Control (YCDC). Others were told to isolate for 14 days and some are following guidelines for “isolating while at work.” Others told Geick they were instructed by supervisors to come in for shifts.
“There have been so many inconsistencies,” Geick said. “If that’s the case, and someone is saying, ‘Yeah, don’t worry about it at all, come to work,’ I mean, essentially, that person that did that could potentially be fined for not isolating.”
Living said despite the concerns of union members, workers were given clear instructions to contact YCDC. Staff at the YCDC then guided employees based on individual circumstances.
“Staff who were experiencing symptoms were advised to stay home and contact Yukon Communicable Disease Control. Based on symptoms and any other health issues, YCDC determined who needed to be tested for COVID-19 and who may have been ill for other reasons. Those individuals were advised to self isolate but not required to get tested,” she said.
Geick said almost all the employees he was contacted by have been told to use their sick leave. He said many are already in a situation of “borrowing” sick leave from the next year due to the pandemic.
“COVID-19 vaccination side-effects, particularly after the second dose, are predictable and manageable. Staying home to ride out those symptoms is a good idea, especially as they can mimic COVID-19 illness. Making healthcare workers use sick leave while they manage those side effects is not appropriate,” Geick wrote on a YEU bulletin posted to social media.
Living said the circumstances are being treated as any other short-term leave and “government employees have a range of leave provisions available to them to address different scenarios.”
“Continuing care has processes in place for staffing when staff are unable to attend work due to symptoms. Nothing has changed with regular approach to covering when people take short notice leave,” Living said.
Geick said the situation is even more concerning for auxiliary on-call employees, who do not have sick leave as part of their employment and must remain home unpaid if they cannot work.
“During a pandemic, you really need to step up to the plate and allow all of your employees to have some form of leave when they’re ill. There are those out there that say, all government workers (are well paid) … but the thing people have to remember is, these are the people that keep our highways clean and keep healthcare running,” he said.
In a statement, Living said auxiliary on-call employees are valued part of the workforce and “there are very few AOC employees working in the continuing care division as health care workers.”
In an update provided Feb. 11, Living clarified that the government uses very few AOC employees specifically in long-term care, but casual staff are relied on more frequently across the larger continuing care division.
Contact Haley Ritchie at firstname.lastname@example.org