It was a relief, and the “light at the end of the tunnel”, according to Jennifer Venema. That was her reaction when she received a phone call on Dec. 31 that her elderly mother would be receiving the COVID-19 vaccine within the first few days of the new year at her Surrey long term care home.
“It was the news we were all waiting for,” she told CTV News, a wait made more anxious by an ongoing outbreak of the virus at the Fraser Health owned and operated Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge, which Venema first learned of through the media in early December. So far, 21 residents and 14 staff have been affected. Venema’s mother has tested negative.
“My mom is... she is the most vulnerable person right now, living in an active outbreak,” Venema said.
However, the family’s relief soon turned to confusion and frustration, after following up and finding out the scheduled shot never happened.
“We phoned a number of times, we left some messages,” Venema said. “We just learned over the weekend, so a week later, that the vaccination was actually cancelled.”
Venema said she found out it was only called off for residents on her mothers floor, where there are active cases, and initially there was no explanation. She said even the care home staff didn’t seem to understand the decision.
“They too were upset and perplexed by the decision,” Venema said. “We’ve got nothing but admiration for them, and how hard they’re working, but they’re spending time fielding our phone calls... I don’t think that’s right.”
Venema blamed poor communication from public health, leaving her family feeling ‘abandoned’, and said she would love to have daily or even weekly updates.
“It’s ever-changing, the information I guess, and it’s hard to get out to people, but you know some communication is better than no communication.”
On Monday, Venema was told the cancelled vaccinations were related to concerns about the potential risk of going room to room, and that there would be another chance at getting the shot on Wednesday, following further testing.
“They should have had a plan for this,” Venema said. “Going into an active outbreak on a floor, would they not have thought about that scenario?”
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said there has been a shift towards prioritizing care homes where there have been outbreaks.
“I know there were concerns, initially from a number of different aspects, including immunizers who were concerned about going into outbreak facilities,” she said. “But now, we have our immunizers protected, both so they aren’t bringing virus in and also so that they aren’t at risk of virus as well.”
Dr. Henry added for people who have not yet been exposed in an outbreak situation, getting the vaccine “will prevent that next generation of exposures”.
“That’s what we’re hoping for,” she said.
In an email to CTV News late Monday, Fraser Health said they held a “vaccine outreach clinic” at Peace Arch Hospital Foundation Lodge on Jan. 3, following staff reaching out to family members of residents in late December to “secure consent” to receive the vaccination.
“Every resident who was scheduled for their vaccination that day received it, and the remainder will be completed in the coming days,” the email said. “A safe process for immunizations for residents on outbreak units has been developed and is now in place.”
Venema is hoping this time, things will go as expected.
“We’ve just got to keep our fingers crossed that mom doesn’t get sick.” she said.