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UPDATE: Yukon government ending vaccine requirements for high-risk workplaces

Shift signals ‘new reality’ of COVID-19, officials say
Dr. Sudit Ranade is seen at a COVID-19 update on July 13. (Screenshot/Yukon government via Facebook)

The Yukon has dropped its vaccine requirements across the board.

The territorial government has followed through on the chief medical officer of health’s recommendation to end its remaining vaccine requirements for workers, volunteers and contractors working in high-risk settings.

“I encourage all Yukoners, especially those working in high-risk settings, to stay up to date on vaccines and booster doses,” Dr. Sudit Ranade said in the July 14 release.

“The recent Omicron variants have shown milder disease but increased transmissibility, even in vaccinated people. All Yukoners ages 18 and up can now get their second booster dose to increase their protection for the coming fall months when there will be increased respiratory illness.”

Read our previous story below:

The Yukon’s top doctors are advising the territorial government to drop the vaccine mandate for workers, contractors and volunteers working in high-risk settings as the territory shifts toward the “new reality” of COVID-19.

The announcement came during an irregular July 13 update on the COVID-19 situation from Dr. Sudit Ranade, the territory’s new chief medical officer of health, and Minister of Health and Social Services Tracy-Anne McPhee.

“It’s going to take some time to figure out exactly what that means for everyday life,” Ranade said about what he called a “cultural shift.”

The government’s live-streamed broadcast was Yukoners’ official first chance to hear from Ranade.

“We will continue to monitor the situation closely with respect to COVID-19 so that we can scale our response as needed in terms of the vaccine mandates,” Ranade said.

For now, mandatory vaccinations remain in place for high-risk settings including long-term care homes; residential substance use programs; hospitals; shelters; residential programs for children and adults where staff provide care; correctional centres; Yukon government-operated community health centres; and Yukon government-operated public health clinics.

Ranade said he is watching what is happening in terms of waves of COVID-19 and examining the impact occurring over the summer in other jurisdictions in order to predict what might happen here.

“But in a larger sense, we need to begin to incorporate the response to COVID-19 with the response to other kinds of respiratory viruses that will co-circulate with COVID-19,” he said.

“Part of that response is making sure that folks are up to date with their vaccines.”

Ranade said other routine pieces of advice remain in place.

“Obviously, if you have symptoms, remember to stay away from others and to stay at home while you’re recovering from those symptoms regardless of whether those are COVID-19 or not,” he said.

READ MORE: New COVID-19 risk reduction recommendations, testing eligibility changes for Yukoners

The government’s online dashboard will be updated weekly or monthly, instead of the daily routine up until now.

“That’s part of recognizing that the daily or weekly fluctuations are not as meaningful in terms of risk as the overall trend,” Ranade said.

Ranade said the key indicators that will be examined are severity of illness and hospitalization numbers.

“The issue is not going to be as much about how many people have COVID-19 as how many people are getting very sick with COVID-19,” Ranade said.

“That’s a different approach. It’s a different strategy.”

On July 13, the Yukon’s dashboard showed 13 new confirmed cases, with 28 active cases and a test positivity rate of 47.9 per cent. In total, there have been 151 hospitalizations and twenty-six people have died due to the virus, according to the dashboard.

Ranade explained that daily case numbers and test positivity rates are less relevant indicators given who is eligible for testing, how those tests are conducted, that people might experience symptoms but not get tested and that people might get a test that isn’t reported to his office.

“The utility of these measures to figure out what the real burden is is reducing,” he said.

“We are going to experience a wave — it’s unclear how high that wave is going to be — and the response is really going to be guided by what is the overall burden in terms of illness in the communities.”

While other provinces and territories are relying on wastewater surveillance data to track the presence of COVID-19 in communities, Ranade said there has been “lots of back and forth” about the purpose of that information and its future applications.

In June, the local governments of Champagne and Aishihik First Nations and Haines Junction partnered with the Public Health Agency of Canada on their own wastewater screening program.

“One of the biggest unknowns around wastewater surveillance is how can it really push, you know, decision making, as opposed to being information that is just for information’s sake?” Ranade said.

READ MORE: Haines Junction starting wastewater surveillance to track COVID-19

Ranade hypothesized that BA.4 and BA.5 are going to become dominant variants, although those different forms of the virus become “less and less relevant, the more and more there are of them.”

“The greater focus really needs to be on not what variants are there, but what kind of disease are they causing, and for the most part, what we’re seeing is that they cause milder disease, especially in highly vaccinated populations,” he said.

In a June 25 statement from the department of Health and Social Services, to detect circulating variants, the government sends about 10 to 15 lab-based PCR samples per week to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control to undergo random sampling for whole genome sequencing.

The Yukon government does not currently publish data on variants circulating in the territory.

“Even if there is a high level of transmission in communities, we know that vaccinations help individuals deal with all aspects of COVID-19,” McPhee said, adding that masks are encouraged, although they continue to be an individual choice.

Masks are only required in long-term care homes; health facilities; shelters; group homes; the correctional centre; and hospitals, although there is no legislation in place.

McPhee said the government is considering “all recommendations” at this time while “keeping in mind that vaccines continue to offer the best protection against severe outcomes, such as hospitalization and death, and knowing that the Omicron variant has a high rate of transmission.”

McPhee said she expects additional recommendations regarding a shift away from the acute stage of the pandemic response.

“As we continue to learn to live with COVID-19, we are starting to take cautious steps towards treating it like other respiratory illnesses.”

McPhee said the new mandate changes were received late last week and will go into effect after the minister takes those recommendations to cabinet, which could happen as soon as this week. If the vaccine mandate is removed, it becomes an immediate action, she said.

McPhee said Ranade has been reviewing the COVID-19 response with leaders across the territory in order to lay the groundwork for the fall when they expect to see an increase in “respiratory illnesses of all kinds.”

Contact Dana Hatherly at

Dana Hatherly

About the Author: Dana Hatherly

I’m the legislative reporter for the Yukon News.
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