Tallinn Ambulance Service will make vaccination for its staff mandatory and those who do not agree to have the coronavirus vaccine may have their contracts terminated. At least one care home is taking the same step.
Raul Adlas, head of Tallinn Ambulance Service, said being vaccinated is included in the qualification requirements for the position after a risk analysis was carried out. He said staff members only using personal protective equipment is not enough to keep patients safe.
"Our people find themselves in different situations, they work around the clock, they work with very different patients who can sometimes be very restless," Adlas told ETV's evening news program "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) on Thursday.
"As a result, we found that the only science-based method to provide maximum protection for our patients is to immunize workers."
So far, approximately 40 Tallinn ambulance workers have not been vaccinated, almost half are pregnant and will soon go on maternity leave. Workers will have another chance to get vaccinated in two weeks time.
"And the third week of May is where we should decide what to do next with people who haven't wanted or been able to get this vaccine," Adlas said.
Ago Kõrgvee, the former head of Tartu Ambulance Service, told AK he supports Adlas' decision because the organization wants to support staff and patients.
"I do not see anything unprecedented in this that the employer could make vaccination compulsory," Kõrgvee said.
Kõrgvee worked with the ambulance service for 20 years and will soon take over the management of Narva Hospital. He hopes he will be able to encourage staff at the hospital to get vaccinated but will eventually have to make a decision about unvaccinated workers.
He believes the government should not leave the decision to the employer alone.
"The state could give a very clear directive that even if some exceptions could be considered for the general population, vaccination should be completely obligatory for doctors," Kõrgvee said, with the exception of people with underlying medical risks. Raul Adlas agreed.
Data from the Estonian Health Insurance Fund shows 85.4 percent of doctors have been vaccinated, 90.7 percent of family doctors, 73.4 percent of nurses and 76.6 percent of midwives. The average coverage of health workers is 78.2 percent.
Healthcare workers were the first group to be vaccinated and they received the first shipments of vaccines in December.
Iru nursing home (Iru Hooldekodu) in Tallinn undergoing a similar process and had already carried out a risk assessment.
Speaking during Wednesday's "Reporteritunnis" show, head of the care home Jaanika Luus said vaccination has become one of the prerequisites for applying for a job at the home. Anyone who has not yet been vaccinated must provide written proof that they will receive the vaccine after starting work, she said.
She said this condition will soon be extended to people who already work at the home.
Labor inspection: Vaccination could be mandatory if no other option is possible
Mandatory vaccination has not been publically discussed by the Ministry of Social Affairs or Minister of Health and Labor Tanel Kiik (Center).
Minister of Social Protection Signe Riisalo (Reform) said at the end of March that vaccination should be made compulsory for care home employees. She said while it is hard to change the regulations in the middle of a crisis, legislation should be discussed after the crisis has been solved.
"Vaccination must be made compulsory for workers in the event of such a serious infectious disease," Riisalo said.
Rait Kuuse, undersecretary of Social Affairs of the Ministry of Social Affairs, told AK care home workers should be vaccinated and that PPE, such as visors, masks and aprons, are not long-term solutions.
"It is not possible for all members of staff at a care home to go around in a protective suit instead of vaccinating themselves," said Kuuse. "People who live in a care home need more humane contact. It can't be that they don't even see a square centimeter of a person's face."
Kuuse said the need to change the legal space is still being analyzed but mandatory vaccination is already required in some professions.
Kaie Saarep, the head of the prevention department of the Labor Inspectorate, said on Thursday in Vikerraadio's program "Uudis +" that before changing the requirements set for employees, the employer must make sure they have taken all the preceding steps. These include a risk assessment and negotiation with an occupational health doctor to see if vaccination is necessary and appropriate.
"And only if it is found that all other measures are not sufficient in this area of activity can the employer impose a vaccination requirement," she said.
If the employee still does not want to get vaccinated, the employer can offer another job in the same company. But if this is not possible, the employee's work contract can be terminated.
Editor: Helen Wright