B.C. hospital visitors not yet being checked for proof of COVID-19 vaccine: health minister

It’s taking longer than expected to make sure all hospital visitors in B.C. are vaccinated against COVID-19.

The province’s health minister confirmed this week that directive, which was initially slated to take effect on Oct. 26, is not yet being enforced.

“Right now we have those checks in long-term care and assisted living, and it will be in the next few days that health authorities ensure that that’s implemented across acute care hospitals,” Adrian Dix told reporters Tuesday.

Patients seeking care do not have to be vaccinated, but Dix is standing by B.C.’s order, which also aims to ensure only immunized staff are allowed to work anywhere in health in this province.

Staff still face job loss if they refuse vaccines

Dix insists all staff in acute care still face unemployment if they’re not immunized against COVID-19.

“The mandatory vaccination requirement is required to support workers in our health care system, to protect workers, to protect patients, to protect residents in long-term care. It is more important than ever that we do so,” he explained. “I am very proud of our health care workers. Ninety-eight per cent of health care workers in B.C. are vaccinated.”

While the vaccine mandate has already led to some staffing shortages, Dix says there are no plans to back away from the directive.

“We have temporary closures on two operating rooms in all of B.C. because of the staff impacts,” the health minister said, noting vaccines have shown to provide protection, especially in the face of the Delta variant that has rapidly spread among unvaccinated individuals.

Unvaccinated health staff were placed on unpaid leave as of last week. The 3,325 health care workers will have three months to get their shots. If they don’t in that time, they could lose their jobs entirely, in what Dix has described is a necessary step.

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Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry spoke frankly earlier this week about the high number of staff who continue to refuse to meet the base requirement.

“[If] now is not the time that you start to believe in the importance and the value of vaccination in protecting people, then I don’t know when is,” Henry said.

“If people are in our health care system and not recognizing the importance of vaccination — then that’s probably not the right profession for them,” B.C.’s top doctor added.

There are currently eight outbreaks at hospitals and more than 30 at care homes or assisted living facilities.

Last month, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate shared the details of a report that showed more than 75 per cent of outbreaks at long-term care facilities identified a staff member as the first case. Twenty-two per cent of outbreaks were in a setting where a resident was identified as the first case, while only one per cent of cases were identified as coming from a visitor.

“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,” Isobel Mackenzie explained on Oct. 6. “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.”

-With files from Liza Yuzda

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