By Jessica Wallace, Kamloops This Week.

The Thompson-Nicola Regional District is the latest organization to implement a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees, contractors and volunteers, effective Feb. 1, 2022.

Regional district chief administrative officer Scott Hildebrand said the requirement builds on existing health and safety measures within the TNRD and aligns with guidance from provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry, recommending vaccine policies by employers.

Hildebrand said the regional district has about 175 employees, another 200-or-so volunteers and untold contractors and is committed to the health and safety of those individuals. Those who do not comply with the mandate will be put on a leave of absence and may ultimately be dismissed.

Accommodations will be available for those who cannot be vaccinated based on a medical condition or a reason related to a protected ground under the BC Human Rights Code.

“We reached out to our employees  and that’s what’s taken us a little bit longer,” Hildebrand said. “We wanted to do our due diligence and not simply copy and paste other municipalities’ policies. We asked our employees to self-declare in a confidential way if they were vaccinated and an overwhelming amount of our employees are vaccinated, to the tune of 95 per cent plus. We felt really good about that.”

The mandate does not include elected officials. Two regional politicians have said they are not vaccinated: Kamloops Coun. Denis Walsh, who sometimes fills in at the regional district as an alternate director, and Cache Creek Mayor Santo Talarico.

Hildebrand said that while the mandate does not include elected officials, the board of directors has talked about putting into place its own policy. It is unclear when or if that may come forward at a board meeting.

In addition to the vaccine mandate, COVID-19 protocols at the regional district include a mask mandate and electronic participation at board meetings via Zoom.

Vaccine mandates have become commonplace by municipal, provincial and federal governments, impacting a wide variety of workers spanning from the health-care sector to the transportation industry.