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B.C. considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for long-term care workers

Syringes containing the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine sit in a tray in a vaccination room at St. Joseph Hospital in Orange, Calif., Thursday, Jan. 7, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)

Vaccines are mandatory for long-term care workers in Ontario, Dr. Bonnie Henry suggests B.C. may follow suit

The CEO of the BC Care Providers Association says workers, families will welcome compulsory shots

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) — Dr. Bonnie Henry says she is “absolutely” considering a policy mandating COVID-19 vaccines for workers in B.C.’s long-term care homes.

The province’s top doctor said Thursday that she is looking at compulsory vaccines as one option to ensure the rate of transmission in these facilities remains low, as restrictions are set to ease as early as next week.

“We’re looking at all of the options around how we ensure that residents in long-term care are protected to the fullest extent possible. As part of moving forward to the next phase of this, we will be looking at how we ensure that everybody in the most highly vulnerable settings are immunized with two doses?” she said.

“It’s incredibly important — and continues to be incredibly important —  that we do that immunization for everybody who’s going into a long-term care home. It’s critical.”

A report released in March found that about 10 per cent of COVID-19 infections in Canada were among residents of long-term care homes. However, 69 per cent of people who died from the virus were residents in these facilities — a  rate significantly higher than the international average of 41 per cent.

Last month, Ontario became the first province to announce it would require employee vaccination in long-term facilities. That policy requires either proof of immunization, a documented medical reason for not getting a shot, or participation in an educational program “about the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not being vaccinated.” Information about individuals’ vaccine status will not be reported to the government, but facilities will have to report overall immunization rates.

RELATED: COVID-19: B.C. touts 325,000 vaccine doses administered per week, cases steady

Terry Lake, the CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, says Henry’s comments come as a relief to workers in the sector, and families with loved ones in long-term care.

“We’ve made our concerns known and many families have done that as well. We’ve heard from many many families just can’t believe that it’s not a requirement in long term care to be vaccinated against COVID-19,” he said.

“We’ve seen the deadly consequences of a respiratory virus like COVID-19. With such an effective vaccine, I think most people would say it just makes sense to make sure that as many people as possible working in health care, on the front lines, are vaccinated.”

RELATED: Rapid COVID-19 testing in B.C. long-term care homes endorsed by SFU experts

Lake is still advocating for widespread use of rapid tests in care homes, and says he would like to see this put in place for workers with exemptions to a mandatory vaccine.

“We could easily utilize those to test unvaccinated staff members three times a week, and that would ensure another layer of protection to protect vulnerable seniors in care.”

Lake notes workers have to disclose their vaccination status for the flu, tuberculosis, and tetanus.

“We’ve left a real huge gap here with COVID-19 that it looks like they’re going to address. So that’s good news.”

With files from Robyn Crawford