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B.C. not ruling out mandatory COVID-19 immunization for long-term care workers

Click to play video: 'Growing calls for mandatory vaccinations for workers in long-term care homes' Growing calls for mandatory vaccinations for workers in long-term care homes
There are growing calls for the B.C. government to make vaccinations mandatory for workers in long-term care homes. Richard Zussman reports. – Jul 29, 2021

British Columbia public health officials have not ruled out mandatory vaccines for health-care workers as part of a series of changes to protect vulnerable British Columbians.

Dr. Bonnie Henry says the province is still working on various approaches, including posting the percentage of vaccinated employees at care homes, increased testing for staff and a requirement for unvaccinated workers to wear masks and PPE.

The province is in the midst of talking to health care workers, the union and the employer about the possibility of a vaccine mandate.

“We are working with the unions and health workers themselves to have policies that require immunization,” Henry said.

“If people cannot be immunized we want to make sure we have every measure in place to be sure we protect those that are most vulnerable. There will be more information about that. We are working through the processes right now.”

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Calls have been growing to implement additional measures in health care as cases of COVID-19 surge.

Interior Health, and especially the Kelowna area, have been driving cases in the province. Most of those getting sick are in their 20s and 30s, are unvaccinated and are getting infected with the Delta variant.

But there are growing concerns those cases will spread to other regions and could spread into care homes. Rates of immunization are high in care homes for staff and residents but it is not 100 per cent.

There are also concerns the vaccines’ effectiveness wears off sooner with older, more vulnerable people.

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Because of this, the province’s seniors advocate is calling for mandatory vaccines for health care workers.

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“The evidence is mounting the protection is not as strong in frail, elderly people,” seniors advocate Isobel Mackenzie said.

“What we are talking about are vaccinations the provincial health officer deems necessary. Today it is COVID-19, we don’t know what it will be in the future.”

Earlier this week Henry said she had “little patience for those unvaccinated in health care,” prompting the BC Care Providers Association to ask the province to move sooner.

“If there is no patience there is a simple fix,” association CEO Terry Lake said.

“Make it mandatory if you work at the staff level.”

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