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COVID-19: Mandatory vaccinations urged for B.C. care home staff

There are growing calls to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for workers in long term care facilities, John Hua reports.

During the first two waves of the COVID-19 pandemic, care homes and other facilities for seniors were hit the hardest. Now, calls are growing to make vaccination and rapid testing mandatory in those facilities.

The BC Care Providers Association says it should be mandatory for all staff to be vaccinated as a condition of their employment. The group is also calling for rapid testing to be in place for all visitors.

An article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal argues that “provincial governments should put in place rules for mandatory vaccination of health care workers that cut across all public and private settings, and should not leave this to the discretion of individual employers.”

“They’re 100 per cent behind a mandatory vaccination policy,” BC Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake said.

“It just takes all the guesswork out of it. It provides consistency so that operators, employees, everybody is operating under the same set of rules.”

Lake said other provinces have been more proactive about vaccinations among long-term care staff. In Quebec, front-line workers either have to be vaccinated or undergo rapid testing three days a week. In Ontario, front-line workers who refuse to be immunized must take a vaccination education program.

“Here in B.C., no efforts that we have seen along those lines. We don’t even know on a site-by-site basic what the rate of vaccination uptake is among staff,” Lake said.

At her Thursday briefing, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said the province wasn’t ruling out mandatory vaccinations for long-term care home staff.

“We’re looking at all of the options around how … we ensure residents in long-term care are protected to the fullest extent possible. And part of that will be ensuring people who work in long-term care are immunized,” she said.

“But there are a number of different factors to consider around that. It is access to vaccine, first and second doses, and what other measures need to be in place for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to be immunized.”

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Bernadette Cheung, whose grandmother was among the more than 40 residents at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Place who died of COVID-19, said she is surprised that measures aren’t already in place.

 “I don’t understand why it would not be a condition of employment, especially because when you’re working with high-risk individuals and you make a personal choice to not take that precaution, it’s just not right,” Cheung said. “It’s immoral, almost.”

Visitors should ideally all be vaccinated or at least given some form of rapid testing, she added.

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Cheung said the province’s restart plan is focused on businesses and the economy, but there remains a lack of new safety measures in place to protect residents in long-term care from another outbreak.

“I would hate for any other people to go through what my family went through,” she said.

— With files from The Canadian Press

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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