Province looking at mandatory COVID vaccinations for staff at long-term care homes

B.C. is exploring the idea of requiring staff in long-term care homes to be vaccinated to keep residents safe.

“We’re looking at all of the options around how do we ensure that residents in long-term care are protected to the fullest extent possible,” said provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry. “Part of that will be ensuring that people who work in long-term care are immunized.”

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Henry said the province is looking at how to deal with any obstacles staff might face to being immunized.

She noted that there have been a few outbreaks in long-term care homes — including a couple where COVID-19 spread rapidly — despite most residents and staff being immunized.

An order requiring care staff to work at only one seniors home remains in place.

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

Health Minister Adrian Dix said earlier this month that the province wasn’t considering mandatory vaccinations for health-care workers.

According to Dix, 33,219 residents have received their first dose in long-term care, and 28,703 residents their second dose, while 41,486 long-term care staff have received a first dose, and 27,755 a second dose.

Dix said revisions to visitation rules are also being considered.

Terry Lake, president of the B.C. Care Providers Association, has said B.C. should follow the lead of other provinces and require that care home staff be vaccinated against COVID. Failing that, homes need to take other measures to protect residents, he said.

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

Ontario requires health-care workers who aren’t vaccinated — and don’t have a medical reason — to participate in an education program about the benefits of vaccines.

Dix said B.C. has hired 5,000 of 7,000 long-term-care workers promised over three years as part of a larger plan introduced last September to make improvements to the quality and infection-control practices in long-term care.

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