VICTORIA — British Columbia is taking further steps to protect vulnerable seniors in the province by making it mandatory for all staff and volunteers at care homes to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 12 as a condition of employment.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that people living in such settings are at particular risk and transmission from unvaccinated people has led to outbreaks.
“I recognize that this is a change from the direction we announced earlier in the spring and June, where we thought it would be sufficient to have additional measures such as testing in place,” Henry said. “We have now seen with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation.”
Immunization data will be collected by the Public Health Office and will be used by officials to determine where vaccination efforts should be focused.
Staff who are not currently fully vaccinated will be required to wear masks and additional personal protective equipment at work until they get both shots.
The rules also apply to volunteers and personal care workers at the facilities.
When asked if B.C. businesses should be able to hire or fire staff based on their vaccination status, Henry said she supported businesses making decisions that allow staff to remain safe.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the new requirements are a necessary step to protect residents and staff at seniors’ care centres.
“The fact of an outbreak, I can tell you as minister of health but also as a family member, is incredibly disruptive and painful to residents of long-term care, families and everyone else,” he said.
The B.C. General Employees’ Union, which represents more than 23,000 members in the health-care sector, including 4,800 in long-term care and assisted living, said the provincial government also needs to reintroduce single-site restrictions, which forbids employees from working at more than one care home.
“With the rapid spread of the Delta variant in B.C. and elsewhere, it’s critical that our province takes the steps necessary to prevent the spread of the virus and protect our vulnerable neighbours and front-line workers,” union treasurer Paul Finch said in a statement.
More than 80 per cent of eligible residents in the province have received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine and about 72 per cent of people have been fully vaccinated.
The announcement comes as British Columbia’s COVID-19 infection rate peaks to levels not seen since mid-May.
There are currently eight COVID-19 outbreaks in long-term care facilities in the province, including four in the Interior health authority, where the provincial health officer has tightened restrictions in the last two weeks.
The surge in cases in the central Okanagan has been attributed to the highly contagious Delta variant.
— By Nick Wells in Vancouver
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Aug. 12, 2021.
The Canadian Press