N.B. seniors’ advocate says home-care workers should be re-prioritized for COVID-19 vaccine

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WATCH: A New Brunswick seniors advocate says the province's health minister needs to reverse her decision to remove home care workers from the vaccine priority list. Shelley Steeves reports. – Apr 13, 2021

New Brunswick’s seniors’ advocate says the province’s health minister needs to reverse the decision to remove home-care workers from the vaccine priority list.

“I was shocked when I first heard of it,” said Cecile Cassista, the director of the Coalition for Seniors and Nursing Home Residents’ Rights.

Read more: N.B. reports 4 new COVID-19 cases as future of Atlantic bubble grim

“There is no question that seniors at home are put at risk.”

Last Thursday, Health Minister Dorothy Shephard announced that New Brunswick home-care workers will now be vaccinated based on age.

“We will no longer be planning separate vaccination clinics for home-care workers or large employers,” Shephard said in the COVID-19 public update.

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Shephard says the two groups will now be vaccinated at the same time as their age cohorts.

“Based on recent advice from public health, cabinet and the all-party cabinet committee on COVID-19, we’ve accepted the recommendation that we adjust Stage 2 of New Brunswick’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan,” Shephard said in the update.

Shephard said the province moved to age-based eligibility to ensure everyone in the province is vaccinated quickly after Health Canada placed restrictions on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But Cassissta says that since most home-care clients are seniors, vaccinating workers entering their homes needs to be re-prioritized, especially with cases of variants of concern on the rise in the province.

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“Look at the situation we are having up north and I really think that we have to be acting proactively as opposed to waiting for it to happen,” she said.

Cassissta says there are roughly 2,000 home-care workers across the province that provide cleaning services, cooking and even health support for many seniors.

“We recognize the valuable and necessary role of Home Care Support workers enabling many New Brunswickers to continue to live at home,” stated Bruce Macfarlane, New Brunswick’s COVID-19 communications lead.

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He said home-care workers have played an important part in following public health advice to avoid putting their clients at risk.

But Cassissta said there is no reliable way to ensure that everyone is following protocol. She said home-care workers should be prioritized along with in-home health-care workers.

“We know that extramural is being protected, they are wearing their equipment and they are basically getting their vaccinations, so why are the workers being treated differently?” said Cassista.

“I really urge the minister to go back to the drawing board and make sure that these front-line workers are receiving their vaccination.”

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