A Manitoba municipality with one of the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the province has rejected a vaccination mandate for its staff.
Stan Toews, Warden of the Rural Municipality of Hanover, said such an order would cause too much division and likely result in the loss of RM employees.
“Even some of the vaccinated would be upset, because you’re taking away the choice,” Toews said Friday. “I don’t think it would fit anywhere because it splits your demographics.”
He doesn’t see this as a missed opportunity to set an example or drive adoption in Hannover.
“I don’t think you would win a lot of people that way,” Toews said. “Everyone has to make up their own mind. I think it’s a great idea (to get vaccinated).”
Hanover’s finance and administration committee recommended the RM not mandate a COVID-19 vaccination after reviewing a model policy from the Association of Manitoba Municipalities.
Toews and six councilors unanimously accepted the recommendation at Wednesday’s regular meeting, although they did not completely close the door on the issue.
Chief executive Luc Lahaie has confirmed that Hannover could introduce a vaccination mandate if the COVID-19 situation worsens. Prospective job applicants may be asked to present proof of vaccination.
About six of RM’s 40 employees — or 15% — are unvaccinated, Lahaie said, adding that most of those who haven’t received COVID-19 vaccines are in the public works department.
“They have jobs where they don’t need to be with the general public,” he said, adding that the entire council had been vaccinated.
Hannover’s 75 firefighters are not included in the count as they are volunteers.
The RM did not ask staff to disclose their vaccination status. Unvaccinated employees voluntarily disclosed their status in conversations with each other, Lahaie said.
“We understand that there are religious beliefs,” he said. “We just want to make sure everyone gets along.”
Toews said the rate of cases among staff remained low. He and Lahaie credited precautions such as working from home whenever possible, face mask and social distancing requirements, and virtual meetings.
“We’ve had low absenteeism and low cases, so what we’ve done is working,” Toews said.
Lahaie estimated that about five employees tested positive for COVID-19 during the pandemic.
Hanover (its northern border is less than 30 kilometers southeast of Winnipeg) was Manitoba’s most populous RM at the 2016 census, with over 15,700 residents.
Hanover had the third-lowest vaccination rate in Manitoba as of Friday, according to the province’s online dashboard. Just under 47% of its inhabitants had received two doses.
At 21.5%, the Rural Municipality of Stanley had the lowest turnout, followed by the Town of Winkler at 41%.
All three municipalities are in the South Health Region.
Winnipeg and Brandon have introduced mandatory COVID-19 vaccination and testing policies for staff, as have the federal and provincial governments. About 31 of 137 municipalities have followed suit, according to a WMA survey.
“We strongly believe that city councils are best placed to make these decisions,” said WMA executive director Denys Volkov.
In December, the RM of Victoria Beach council agreed to draw up a vaccination mandate and ban unvaccinated people from municipal buildings, although it did not set a start date for the vaccination. one or the other policy.
Local councilor Steve Axworthy said many regional municipalities are reluctant to introduce warrants because they fear losing or alienating staff.
“For most municipalities, losing a single staff member could be a major problem,” he said.
Axworthy believes most regional municipalities would be okay if the province released a standardized policy that they could implement together, rather than having to go it alone.
“Municipalities are self-governing and have been encouraged to implement measures for front-line services that reflect what the province has done,” a government spokesperson said on the matter.
Last year, the Association of Municipal Administrators of Manitoba hosted a webinar on how to develop a vaccine mandate.
“For some municipalities, it’s not a cookie-cutter policy,” Chief Executive Adrienne Bestland said. “It’s a very controversial topic.”