B.C. health officials announced new orders Thursday that everyone who works in long-term care and assisted living facilities in the province must be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We think this additional step to the steps we took earlier on… that this additional step will add to the safety of all of those living in long-term care,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said at a press conference.
This will apply to all licenced facilities, and every staff member, including volunteers, must be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12.
It will be a condition of employment.
Dix said in January of this year, they reported 49 care home outbreaks to almost none in the month of February.
He said this shows the importance of the vaccine program to health-care workers in long-term care.
But cases of COVID-19 continue to climb across the province, Dix said, particularly in the Interior region.
“People living in long-term care are vulnerable and particularly vulnerable to COVID-19,” Dix said.
There are now eight facility outbreaks in the province, caused by unvaccinated people, provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said.
As of Thursday, 82.3 per cent of those eligible over 12 in the province have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Of those, 72 per cent are fully immunized.
Visitors to long-term and assisted living facilities who are not fully vaccinated will have to wear a mask when visiting loved ones.
Henry has previously said unvaccinated health-care staff working in certain situations will need to take additional infection prevention and control measures while caring for others but Thursday she said this is not enough.
“I recognize that this is a change from the direction that we announced earlier in the spring, in June, where we thought it would be sufficient to have additional measures such as testing in place,” she said. “We have now seen with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation, even when resident immunization is high, as it is across the board in facilities in this province.
“We have seen transmission from unvaccinated staff and it reinforces the need for protection from all people in long-term care.”
Acute care and community care workers must also be fully vaccinated but those details are still being worked out, Henry said.
Several major European countries, including France, Italy and Greece, have already implemented mandatory vaccines, and some leading Canadian health-care organizations are calling on Canadian jurisdictions to follow suit.
Both the Canadian Nurses Association and the Canadian Medical Association were pressing for the measure.
“I think it’s always challenging for (governments) to make these decisions, but I think our jobs as leaders in healthcare is to sometimes make a difficult decision and lead with science,” Dr. Katherine Smart, president-elect of the Canadian Medical Association, told Global News last week.
The B.C. Nurses’ Union said it is “strongly encouraging” nurses, other health-care workers and the general public to be vaccinated against communicable diseases.
“Vaccination provides an important layer of protection against many communicable diseases, and BCNU believes that education is the most appropriate means of achieving high vaccination rates for nurses, other health-care workers and the general public,” Cody Hedman, CEO of the Nurses’ Union said in a statement.
Henry said they know there might be some backlash to this announcement but health officials and legal officials are confident this can be an effective requirement for employment in these facilities in order to protect some of the province’s most vulnerable citizens.
Terry Lake, the CEO of BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) and EngAge BC said they fully support the announcement Thursday.
“Ensuring that everyone who works with seniors living in B.C.’s long-term care and assisted living homes is vaccinated against COVID-19 is critical to the safety and wellbeing of both residents and staff. We know families with loved ones in care will also welcome this news,” Lake said in a statement.
“This order is particularly important as we face new variants of this pernicious virus which has affected seniors living in long-term care and assisted living so drastically.”