Booster shots for long-term care, vaccine mandate for hospital staff on their way: Henry

Dr. Bonnie Henry signalled Tuesday that an expanded vaccine mandate for health-care workers is coming soon and booster shots for the elderly and immune-compromised will be offered in the coming weeks.

Henry, B.C.’s provincial health officer, indicated more vaccination measures are coming as she presented modelling that shows a gradual and steady increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and slightly increasing hospitalizations over the next month.

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B.C. is in a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” Henry said. “What we’re seeing is this has become a pandemic that is spreading rapidly amongst pockets of people who are unvaccinated.”

The new transmissions are driven by the unvaccinated in the 19 to 39 age group, followed by the 40 to 59 group.

If vaccination levels continue as they are and transmission is moderate, the number of new cases of COVID-19 could reach record levels of more than 1,000 cases a day in B.C. over the next month. The trajectory would flatten, however, with even a slight increase in vaccinations.

B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said 76.5 per cent of eligible people have had two doses of vaccine.

Getting more people immunized — even just a small percentage increase in vaccinations for ages 12 to 30 — “can make a tremendous difference in the trajectory of our pandemic in the next month,” said Henry.

Data from July 30 to Aug. 26 shows fully vaccinated individuals accounted for 15 per cent of 13,654 of new cases and 13 per cent of COVID-19 hospitalizations. Those who had received one dose accounted for 16 per cent of new cases and six per cent of hospitalizations, while the unvaccinated accounted for 70 per cent of new cases and 81 per cent of hospitalizations.

COVID-19 infections are 10 times higher among the unvaccinated; hospitalization rates 17 times higher.

Age-based models show that, for instance, a 50-year-old unvaccinated person has a 12 times greater risk of getting COVID-19 and a 34 times greater risk of ending up in hospital.

COVID-19 deaths are occurring primarily in older people, particularly those over age 80 — though deaths have occurred in unvaccinated people in their 40s and 50s. Of 33 deaths from July 30 to Aug. 26, one-third were in residents of long-term care. In many communities, there continues to be spillover from unvaccinated community members into places such as long-term care, said Henry, which is one reason the province is requiring all staff in long-term care and assisted living to be double vaccinated by Oct. 12.

“Once this virus — particularly this highly transmissible strain that we’re seeing circulating in B.C. now — once it gets into long-term care homes, even older fully vaccinated people can become ill and can die.”

In response to the threat of health-care workers in seniors’ homes moving to acute-care hospitals to avoid the vaccine mandate, Henry noted that she’s working on how to make vaccines mandatory for B.C.’s health-care sector beyond long-term care. “It is incredibly important that we keep ourselves well so that we can care for people in the health care setting, but also so we’re not passing it on to our colleagues, and we know there are high-risk settings in acute care and home care and community care.”

The province is working through labour relations issues with unions and other groups. “You will hear something about that very soon,” said Henry.

Dix said COVID is most dangerous and most lethal in long-term care, “and that’s why we started with that group of people — and we need to ensure that everybody in that setting is immunized — and we’re working through the details for the other health-care settings.”

The province is also preparing to deliver booster shots to clinically immune-compromised people — those with blood cancers, for example.

“Operationally, we’re putting together the plans to be able to provide that third dose to that group of people and I expect that to happen next week or so,” said Henry.

Those in long-term care are expected to be eligible for boosters in October. “We’d be looking at providing influenza immunization around the same time,” said Henry.

Others will likely be offered boosters based on age in early 2022.

“The data that we’re seeing right now doesn’t show that we need a booster dose yet,” said Henry. “It may be some time in the new year for the average person, starting with age.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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