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Kelowna care centre outbreak: Questions raised about staff vaccination rates

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WATCH: After declaring an outbreak of COVID-19 at the Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, the Interior Health Authority has revealed that 35 per cent of the facility`s staff have not been vaccinated against the disease. It's a startling revelation that is raising a number of questions and concerns from the public. – Mar 11, 2021

After declaring a COVID-19 outbreak at Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, Interior Health has revealed that 35 per cent of the facility’s staff have not been vaccinated against the disease.

“I don’t know the reason for the vaccination sitting at 65 per cent amongst staff,” said Dr. Carol Fenton of Interior Health.

“I would expect that among those who haven’t been vaccinated there are some who have chosen not to.”

Read more: COVID-19 outbreak declared at Kelowna long-term care facility despite vaccinations

Cottonwoods Care Centre is a one-storey building on an 11-acre site with 161 long-term beds, 60-short-stay beds and two respite beds.

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Kelowna long-term care facility staff vaccination concerns – Mar 11, 2021

As of Thursday, the site had 13 confirmed cases of COVID-19, involving 11 residents and two staff members.

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The issue of vaccination rates at Cottonwoods came up during Dr. Bonnie Henry’s daily press conference on Thursday.

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“There were a certain percentage of staff we understand who weren’t available or didn’t receive it the first couple of times they went through,” said Henry, the province’s top health official.

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B.C. officials report 569 new COVID-19 cases and three deaths – Mar 11, 2021

So what is Interior Health’s recourse when it comes to an employee who refused to be vaccinated?

Can they transfer that employee to a safer environment?

Can they even refuse that employee work?

Or can it be considered grounds for termination?

“Right now, we have not explored any of those enforcement levers,” said Fenton.

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“And part of the reason why is that we are working flat-out to just get the vaccine to those who want it.”

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Dr. Bonnie Henry announces new health order for outdoor social gatherings in B.C – Mar 11, 2021

This raises the question should someone who doesn’t want the vaccine be working in a long-term care facility?

Three people who spoke to Global News on the street said yes, health-care employees in those scenarios should be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, Fenton said, “I definitely feel the frustration because, as a public health official, I also want everyone to be vaccinated.”

Terry Lake of the B.C. Care Providers Association is feeling that frustration, too.

“I think the government needs to look at this issue,” said Lake, adding care providers who refuse the vaccine could be given daily tests.

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“We have rapid testing sitting in boxes in Vancouver,” said Lake. “Let’s use them.”

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B.C. modelling data looking back at first year of pandemic – Mar 11, 2021

However, that isn’t part of the protocols dictated by the provincial health order.

“Those include daily symptom checks, strict PPE and hand hygiene,” Fenton said of the protocols.

But what it doesn’t include is a mandatory vaccine shot.

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