B.C. long-term care worker vaccine mandate now in effect

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – A new vaccine mandate is in place at long-term care homes across B.C., meaning most workers must now have at least one dose of a COVID-19 shot to be allowed in.

The mandate requires full vaccination by Oct. 12. However, allowances are being made for workers who have received one shot, with those individuals required to undergo daily rapid testing and be required to get their second dose within 35 days of their first.

“Although the vaccination rate of residents and staff is generally high in many facilities, there are facilities where this is not the situation, and in all facilities there are residents and staff who are not vaccinated,” reads the provincial health order, dated Oct. 4.

“Residents of facilities are typically elderly and usually have chronic health conditions or compromised immune systems which makes them particularly vulnerable to severe illness and death
from COVID-19, even if they are vaccinated, since despite the fact that vaccination is the single most effective protection against illness, vaccination is not completely protective, and protection may wane with time,” the PHO adds, noting “vaccination is safe, very effective, and the single most important preventive measure a staff member or a person providing health care, personal care, or other services or support can take to protect residents, and the health care and personal care workforce, from infection, severe illness and possible death from COVID-19.”


While visitors will need to be fully vaccinated by Nov. 30, some private facilities are already mandating full immunization. They are currently required to have at least one shot to be able to enter a long-term care facility.

The province first announced the mandate in August, saying it was making the move because of “disruptive” outbreaks linked to the Delta variant and non-vaccinated people. At the time, the provincial government had said full vaccination would be required by Oct. 12.

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“We must take every precaution to protect our most vulnerable, and that means every person who works in long-term care and seniors’ assisted living must be fully vaccinated,” Health Minister Adrian Dix said on Aug. 12.

As of last Friday, Oct. 8, 17 long-term care facilities had active outbreaks.

Hendrik Van Ryk, the chief operating officer for the Hamlets, which manages several care homes in B.C. and Alberta, says his organization supports the mandate, adding the requirements are a “good step to protect the team, the staff, and the residents.”

“We have been advocating for that for quite some time, actually, because we think it’s an important step to protect everybody that comes in and out of long-term care and assisted living,” he told NEWS 1130.

“It’s a very vulnerable population and they need all the protection they can get.”

He notes there has been some concern around how the mandate could affect operations. Van Ryk explains staffing in health care has already been a challenge, and that COVID-19 has not helped the situation.

“It’s ebbed and flowed over the two years it’s been around, and there was, initially, a lot of concern for being extra short on staff,” he said Tuesday.

However, Van Ryk notes the time the province has given workers to “get educated, to feel comfortable, and to get the vaccine” has already made a difference.

“Initially when the mandate was announced, we were probably, I would guess, 15 to 20 per cent of our staff were not vaccinated. Now, we’re down to probably about five per cent,” he told NEWS 1130.

Related video: COVID-19 vaccinations mandatory for B.C. long-term care workers


Some homes still have staff who are not or have no plans to get vaccinated. While these people make up a relatively “small” number, Van Dyke says two people can impact the operations of a smaller care facility.

“It puts extra stress on the staff who are working. We’ll continue to have those conversations with the staff and, hopefully, in the coming weeks, we can convince them to get the vaccine.”

The Hamlets is continuing to work to recruit replacements for staff who refuse to get vaccinated, with Van Ryk saying there are “empty lines” that need to be filled.

Van Ryk admits there are many staff members who are pitching in to put in extra hours to try and fill whatever gaps there may be.

“It creates an added pressure. But we’re actively trying to recruit additional team members,” he said, adding that effort has already been a challenge amid a shortage.

He confirms long-term care workers are required to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12, but that there is a grace period for workers who have recently received a single dose and who are waiting for their second.

Those who have not yet received a dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by Oct. 12 are being place on unpaid leave for a certain period of time, he adds.

“But at some point in the future, termination is possible for those who have not received a dose by today and by the end of their unpaid leave.”

Requiring all long-term care staff to be vaccinated and providing boosters to residents was one of several recommendations made by B.C.’s seniors advocate, Isobel Mackenzie, who unveiled the details last week of her latest report into COVID-19 and its impacts on some of our most vulnerable.

Related video: B.C. seniors in long-term care to be offered COVID-19 boosters

She reviewed nearly 500 sites, between March 2020 and March 2021, with her findings revealing that more than 75 per cent of outbreaks were in a facility where a staff member was identified as the first case.

“If the resident was the first detected case of COVID-19 in a facility, it is highly likely that the virus was in the facility, transmitting before the first case was detected,” Mackenzie explained. “Residents, for the most part, contracted the virus from staff, and staff contracted the virus either from other staff or from the residents.”

She added this demonstrates “to a large extent, asymptomatic staff, (are) unaware that they are infected and transmitting the virus.”

Meanwhile, as of Oct. 26, all health-care workers across B.C. will also be expected to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

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