Booster shot accessibility is on the rise – not just in Canada but globally, too. Recently, in the United Kingdom, booster shots (or third doses) have become available to the general public for those 50 years of age or older. In France and the United States, the general age requirement rises to 65 years of age or older. In Canada, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has recently made interim recommendations that the following groups receive a booster shot:
- adults 70 years and older
- adults living in long term care or other congregate settings that provide care for seniors
- anyone who received two doses of the AstraZeneca/COVISHIELD vaccine or one dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine
- adults in or from First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities
- adults who are front-line health-care workers who have direct in-person contact with patients and who were vaccinated with a very short interval between their first and second doses (three or four weeks)
Provinces in Canada, including Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia, have followed suit in varying degrees, and have started to roll out booster shots for certain age groups, as well as for those who are at the highest risk of waning protection, increased risk of lower protection over time since vaccination, increased risk of severe illness, or who are essential for maintaining health system capacity.
Save for certain health and seniors care settings in certain jurisdictions, employers have generally not– as of yet – been mandated to require employees to specifically receive booster shots. This includes the federal sphere, where federally regulated transportation employers (excluding road transportation) were required to adopt a mandatory vaccination policy by November 15.
Likewise, there is a dearth of guidance from the jurisprudence and arbitral decisions as to whether booster shots can be mandated by employers or included in mandatory vaccination policies. However, as booster shots become more widely available to the general public, it may be expected that further clarity on the treatment of third doses could be gleaned from forthcoming decisions regarding mandatory workplace vaccination policies.
As the science of COVID-19 vaccines evolves, employers would be wise to continuously revisit their vaccination policies and procedures to ensure that they effectively protect health and safety in the workplace. Indeed, guidance in this area is relatively new and developing, and varies by province. On that note, it should be mentioned that some jurisdictions have set more ambitious goals for the distribution of booster shots than others, like British Columbia where people 18 years of age and older will be eligible as soon as January 2022 to receive a third dose. Looking onwards, if booster shots are indeed more generally required to protect against the dangers of COVID-19, then it may very well be reasonable for policies to reflect that reality.
We will keep you updated as more information on this topic is made available.
The author would like to thank Colleen Dermody for her assistance in preparing this piece.