B.C. 'absolutely' considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccines for long-term care staff, Henry says
B.C.'s top doctor says the province is considering mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for workers in long-term care homes, along with a suite of other potential policies aimed at ensuring that residents of such facilities have as much protection from the coronavirus as possible.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry revealed the ongoing deliberation in response to questions from reporters at her news conference on B.C.'s pandemic response Thursday.
Asked whether the province would look at mandatory vaccination for long-term care workers or policies that would allow care home operators to reassign staff members who have not been vaccinated, Henry was unequivocal.
"Absolutely," she said. "We're looking at all of the options around how do we ensure that residents in long-term care are protected to the fullest extent possible."
Part of that protection, Henry said, will be ensuring that people who work in long-term care facilities are immunized, but she added that there are "a number of different factors to consider" when it comes to staff vaccination.
"(Those factors include) access to vaccine - first and second doses - and what other measures need to be in place for people who, for whatever reason, are unable to be immunized?" Henry said. "So, yes, we are actively working on all of those in terms of the progression of the policy for workers in long-term care."
Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix noted that care home policies have largely not been tied to B.C.'s reopening plan.
The province resumed allowing visitors at long-term care and assisted-living homes in late March, just days before health officials introduced stricter "circuit-breaker" rules for the general population.
Dix and Henry did not specify when new policies for care homes might be implemented, but they made it clear that changes are coming.
"We have still in place a single site (staffing) order, and as part of moving forward into the next phase of this we will be looking at how do we ensure that everybody in those most highly vulnerable settings are immunized, with two doses, as much as possible," Henry said.
Ontario recently announced new rules requiring each of that province's 626 long-term care homes to have immunization policies in place. At a minimum, those policies require workers who do not get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to "participate in an educational program about the benefits of vaccination and the risks of not being vaccinated."
Dix said Thursday that 33,219 long-term care residents in B.C. have received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, and 20,703 have received a second dose. Among staff members, 41,486 have received a first dose and 27,755 have received a second.
Site-specific immunization numbers for care home residents were published in February, but haven't been updated since. The province has never released site-specific vaccination numbers for care home staff.
With files from CP24's Chris Fox