Health-care workers should be vaccinated to protect residents: care-home group

B.C. should require health-care workers in long-term care to be vaccinated, or take steps to protect residents from being infected by them, says the president of the B.C. Care Providers Association.

“We feel strongly that B.C. should follow the lead of other provinces and require vaccination for COVID or other measures to protect residents,” Terry Lake said.

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B.C.’s former health minister pointed to thrice-weekly rapid testing in Quebec and new immunization policies for 626 long-term care homes in Ontario that, at a minimum, will require health-care workers who go unvaccinated — without a medical reason — to participate in an education program about the benefits of vaccines.

At the very least, care-home operators should be told how many staff are not vaccinated, which would help them assess risk, said Lake. Some association owners and operators, acting on legal advice, are requiring new staff members to be vaccinated prior to employment, Lake said.

On Wednesday, the prospect of care-home workers in the United Kingdom being required to get vaccinated against COVID-19 moved a step closer with a crucial endorsement from Britain’s human-rights watchdog, reported The Guardian newspaper.

Victoria’s Brenda Brophy, who pulled her 101-year-old mother out of long-term care due to visiting restrictions last year and who now acts as an advocate for long-term-care residents and their families, said visitors and health-care workers in direct contact with residents should be required to be vaccinated. If they’re not, residents and their families should be given the option to refuse care from them, she said.

B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie said mandatory vaccinations of health-care workers won’t happen, adding: “The courts have settled that.”

“As seniors advocate, I think it is a bona fide occupational requirement, but it’s going to be the courts that determine that question, not me, not the Ministry of Health, and not the public health officer,” said Mackenzie. “We couldn’t even win the battle on compulsory flu shots.”

She noted that unvaccinated health care staff also cannot be forced to wear masks during flu season.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said this week the province isn’t considering mandatory immunizations for health-care workers who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID 19.

Dix said the government is employing a number of strategies to provide education and encouragement around vaccination, adding that 41,000 workers in long-term care have had at least a first dose.

Most long-term-care residents and staff were offered immunization in January and February and most residents have now had a second dose, along with “a very significant number of health care workers.”

In the Island Health region, 9,415 long-term- care staff were vaccinated with one dose and 6,605 with a second dose as of May 16.

Dr. Richard Stanwick, Island Health’s chief medical health officer, said there is no plan to make vaccination mandatory for health-care providers, but unvaccinated individuals providing care will likely be required to wear appropriate protective equipment, such as masks.

Mike Old, interim secretary-business manager for the Hospital Employees’ Union, said COVID-19 vaccines have been highly effective in making long-term care and assisted living safer for residents and workers. “Because of this, we expect that high rates of vaccination among health-care workers will rise even higher.”

B.C. reported 183 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, including three in the Island Health region.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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