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Debate on mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for Burnaby teachers goes behind closed doors

'This is a labour relations issue,' says board chair

Whatever discussions the Burnaby school board has about making vaccines mandatory for school staff will happen behind closed doors, according to chair Jen Mezei.

“This is a labour relations issue, and therefore all discussions will be taking place in camera,” she said in a report at a public meeting Tuesday.

Mezei was updating the board on ongoing discussions about vaccine mandates for teachers and other school staff.

The province has left the decision of whether or not to make vaccines mandatory for staff up to individual boards, but it released a framework to guide trustees in the decision-making process on Oct. 22.

Mezei said school board chairs and superintendents in the Fraser Health and Vancouver Coastal Health regions also met with public health officials for a consultation on Oct. 19.

Mezei’s report provided no information about what had been discussed at that meeting, saying only that the board will “continue to approach this highly complex process in a careful and thoughtful manner.”

New West rejects mandate

Meanwhile, the New Westminster school board – which voted in camera Wednesday to reject mandatory vaccines for staff – released a report about the input it got from health officials on Oct. 19.

One key takeaway from that report is that students, not staff “primarily drive in-school transmission.”

The report said the pros of a vaccine mandate include a potential increase in vaccine coverage in schools. It also noted educators are role models and fully vaccinated staff aren’t required to isolate, allowing people to continue working.

But the effectiveness of mandatory vaccines for reducing transmission “may be limited” in areas that already have high vaccination coverage, the report said, and a vaccine mandate may exacerbate inequities and further entrench those opposed to the vaccine.

“A mandate is one of the most intrusive/intensive interventions,” stated the report. “Other less restrictive measures may be possible.”

'I don't think there are many questions left'

At a meeting of the Burnaby school board’s committee of the whole last month, trustee Ryan Stewart had sounded a more confident tone.

“I don’t think there are many questions left in people’s minds about the effectiveness of vaccines for preventing spread of the virus,” he said. “With the hundreds of millions, if not billions of doses of the vaccine given, we know it’s probably one of the most tested vaccines ever developed, so questions around safety are becoming resolved … We know the role it plays in preventing spread of the virus; we know the risks to students, many of whom are presently unvaccinated.”

The committee directed school district staff to report back to the board after reviewing “information received pertaining to mandatory staff vaccinations.”

Stewart said he didn’t want to “pre-judge any outcome” of that report but added the board had “obligations as a district as an employer to ensure we’re protecting the health and safety and providing a safe occupational environment for all staff.”

The staff report requested by the committee will be presented behind closed doors, according to the district, and it will be up to the board to determine how much is made public.

Follow Cornelia Naylor on Twitter @CorNaylor
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