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COVID-19: B.C. study to probe lagging care home worker vaccination rates

Click to play video: 'Study to look into vaccination rates of B.C. care home workers' Study to look into vaccination rates of B.C. care home workers
WATCH: It was seniors homes that took the hardest hit at the start of the pandemic but those numbers started to drop as more and more seniors got vaccinated - but there are still staff members who haven't had their shots. As Aaron McArthur reports, researchers are now looking into why that is – May 20, 2021

Why do vaccination rates among workers in B.C.’s long-term care homes lag behind those of the residents who live in them?

It’s a question researchers in British Columbia are looking to answer with a new study spearheaded by Simon Fraser University.

“The main thing we’re exploring in this study is trying to close the gap in vaccination rates between residents and staff,” study lead Dr. Valorie Crooks, SFU geography professor and Canada Research Chair in health service geographies told Global News.

“Staff rates are lower. It really depends by facility.”

Read more: Emotional reunions as B.C.’s relaxed care home restrictions take effect

Crooks study will look specifically at the Fraser Health region, which was particularly hard hit during the pandemic. The health authority has 85 long-term care homes, with about 10,000 residents and a similar number of workers.

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More than 400 people died in 105 separate outbreaks in those facilities.

While the numbers have dropped precipitously in recent months, there have been several new outbreaks in recent weeks, potentially imported by staff members.

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Report says ‘enhanced surveillance’ for COVID-19 at B.C. long term care homes was a failure – May 14, 2021

Fraser Health declined to say what percentage of health-care workers in the long-term care sector have been vaccinated. Provincial data shows about 92 per cent of residents have had at least one dose of vaccine.

“There’s lots of reasons why we should focus on closing this gap, including that long-term care employees have worked in in one of the most at-risk employment facilities since the outset of this pandemic,” Crooks said.

While Crooks will be investigating the vaccine gap, she was quick to stress that the idea isn’t to pressure people into getting the shot, nor are researchers assuming people are hesitant or refusing them.

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Read more: Unlike many U.S. schools, B.C. won’t require vaccines on post-secondary campuses

While some may be unsure about the vaccines, others may have missed their opportunity or have language, cultural or other yet unknown barriers in the way.

That’s something Dr. Julie Bettinger, professor of pediatrics at BC Children’s Hospital Research Institute and the UBC vaccine evaluation centre, said is worth paying attention to.

“It’s not all about hesitancy, it’s not all about the individual,” she said.

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Should COVID-19 vaccinations be mandatory for staff in B.C.’s long-term care homes? – May 5, 2021

“Often times there are system factors in place that are preventing access to vaccination, and until we address those system factors, I think we shouldn’t be pointing fingers at individuals.”

Crooks said her study will speak with full-time, part-time and contract workers, along with kitchen, custodial and other staff and administrators to get a better understanding of what the underlying factors are — including what barriers may be in place.

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“This is something we’re looking at: are there barriers that are very easy to overcome?” she said.

“People are feeling burnt out and this is a huge decision to make, and that burnout may actually be affecting their ability to think through the risks and potential benefits of becoming vaccinated.”

The research is being funded by a partnership between Genome BC, the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and the BCCDC Foundation for Public Health.

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