By Arnold DeBoon, Town of Creston Councillor
Recently, town council passed a couple of policies requiring all councillors, staff, and volunteers to be fully immunized against COVID-19. The issue of vaccinations has been contentious, to say the least. People have strong opinions on this subject and it has created tension in our workplaces and our personal lives. Despite all of the emotions around this topic, council felt that it was necessary to implement a mandatory COVID-19 immunization policy for our organization. The policy is about doing what we can to protect our employees who provide essential services every day for our residents, and additionally, it helps us do our part in protecting our health care system.
Prior to the adoption of this COVID-19 immunization policy, you may have noted that the draft policy that was up for consideration didn’t include members of council. This was simply because members of council are not employees under the direction of the chief administrative officer (CAO), as other staff and volunteers are. Our CAO is responsible for policy development for employees and volunteers of the Town of Creston. As council members are elected, they are governed by provincial legislation which details how elected officials must conduct themselves, including disqualification from office. Once the COVID-19 immunization policy was in front of council for deliberation, council members requested to have a policy developed whereby it would also be mandatory for us to be fully immunized against COVID-19, within the same timelines as the policy for staff and volunteers.
During the past 19 months, the Town of Creston has continuously enhanced measures to protect our workers and our community. An outbreak within our workforce could significantly impact the essential services that we all rely upon. For example, we need to have all employees available to manage snow clearing as we head into the winter months. We all rely on our streets being cleared of snow to be able to navigate our daily lives, so losing even a handful of employees to a COVID-19 outbreak in the workplace could be detrimental to providing that service. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the town has incurred additional costs and experienced the loss of some productivity to ensure that we would be able to continue to provide our essential services. Our volunteer firefighters work daily with the public, often in a first responder capacity with many who have health vulnerabilities. We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to minimize the possibility of one of our firefighters causing the spread COVID-19 while providing critical services.
There seems to be a continuous conversation where individuals have stated that they personally do not want to receive the COVID-19 vaccine as they believe their immune system cannot handle it. However, this highly contagious virus is having a great effect on our health care system by those who do become very ill and require medical intervention. Hundreds of affected people in our province are in our hospitals. This is in addition to the regular influx of patients who rely on medical care for their illnesses or trauma situations. This burden to our hospitals has delayed surgeries that are important to the livelihood of so many people, and it has also created limitations to treatments for non-life threatening situations. Much of this can be avoided by being immunized. Yes, you can still acquire COVID-19 even if fully immunized, as was my case this past summer. The difference is that the statistics show that being fully immunized against COVID-19 significantly reduces the need for hospitalization.
When I tested positive for COVID-19 this summer, even though I was fully immunized, I was shocked – mainly because I had very minimal symptoms that only lasted a couple of days. My wife, who is also immunized, did not get COVID-19. This experience, and so many others that I have heard, speaks to the effectiveness of immunization in preventing severe illness and minimizing its threat to our health care system.
Coupled with my own experience, I have personal knowledge of a person who was very much against the COVID-19 vaccine and thought that it was all overblown. He refused to take the vaccine. About two months ago, he thought he had the flu. His condition worsened, but he did not want to seek medical help. Eventually, he began having difficulty breathing, so his wife took him to the emergency department in his hometown. The diagnosis was that he was suffering severe effects from COVID-19, without the boost to his immune system that the vaccine could have provided. By this time, his oxygen level had dropped to a dangerously low level, and he was in danger of losing his life. He was put into a medically induced coma and spent the next 12 days on a ventilator. When he started to recover, he was completely traumatized by the vivid hallucinations and sensations he had while sedated. He now suffers from PTSD and some lingering COVID-19 symptoms (this is referred to as Long COVID). He came to the realization that he should have been vaccinated and taken COVID-19 more seriously. He is forever grateful to all the health-care workers that worked hard to keep him alive, and now urges everyone who may have been hesitant to get vaccinated against COVID-19. Imagine how much just this one case has cost our health care system, and extrapolate that over each province and the entire country!
Town council took the initiative to require immunization against COVID-19 for ourselves, our employees, and our volunteers because it simply works. The level of immunity provided by the vaccine may vary from person to person, as COVID-19 itself is more severe in some people than others. The bottom line is that you will have a better defense against the virus with the vaccine than without it. We can be assured that a large segment of our employees and volunteers are not away from work due to COVID-19 and possibly endanger provision of essential services. Our firefighters and front line staff will be less likely to spread the virus while providing services that we, as a community, need and want. Most importantly, this policy serves to protect our healthcare system. With hundreds of British Columbians hospitalized each day from COVID-19, and the majority of those being unvaccinated, it seemed appropriate to do what we can as council to try and stop even one more person from being hospitalized. While this policy may unfortunately result in the loss of a few good employees and volunteers, our community can be assured that it will also result in ensuring that the Town of Creston will continue to provide essential services. Municipal governments exist to provide services to their citizens, and more importantly, to act with the goal of community safety.