As the province continues to expand eligibility for a third dose of COVID-19 vaccine, one group of people believes they may have been overlooked.
Some long-term care workers say they should be on the list for boosters, given the vulnerability of those they serve, and the length of time that has passed since their vaccination.
“Our staff actually got their first Pfizer vaccine in December and their second dose in January,” said Karen Biggs, CEO of the Menno Place in Abbostford.
“If Bonnie Henry is saying it wears off in six months, it means it’s wearing off.”
Long-term care residents in B.C. started receiving their third doses this week.
On Tuesday, the provincial health officer announced roughly 100,000 “moderately to severely immunocompromised” British Columbians would receive a third shot as well.
That’s as the province returns 300,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine, Spikevax, to the federal government, to help immunize people in other countries.
Dr. Henry said Tuesday those doses weren’t needed in B.C.
“The feeling is just a sense of, ‘please,'” Biggs described. “It breaks your heart that there’s something out there — a tool in the toolkit — that we don’t have access to.”
In recent months, Menno Place, which houses roughly 700 seniors, has had three outbreaks of COVID-19. In one unit, nine staff and 20 residents contracted the virus, all of whom were double-vaccinated.
Biggs said her team “urgently hopes” the province will “change the plan,” and offer boosters to vaccinated long-term care workers who work in close physical contact with their residents, whose average age is 89.
Raman Brar, a care provider at Menno Place, said getting a third dose would give her more confidence that she’s keeping her promise to provide “safe care” to all residents.
“You become like their surrogate family,” she explained. “We love these people.”
While she appreciates all the steps that have been taken so far to keep long-term care homes safe, Brar called on Dr. Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix to add staff to the priority list, “please, thank you.”
On Wednesday, Dix said “very significant steps are taken” to ensure long-term care residents are protected, including mandatory vaccination for long-term care workers and the provision of booster shots to residents.
In the third and fourth waves of the pandemic, he acknowledged, recent outbreaks of the virus “have been the result principally of coming in by staff,” but the province doesn’t plan to give them a third shot.
“I appreciate the B.C. care providers and their recommendations, but our recommendations come from public health,” he said at a press conference in Victoria.
The province will continue with its approach, he added, of vaccinating those most at risk of contracting the virus, suffering serious harm, or whose level of protection from two doses of vaccine falls short of the protection they provide to those with healthy immune systems.
Terry Lake, CEO of the BC Care Providers Association, believes the proving is making a mistake in excluding long-term care staff, many of whom are close to becoming senior citizens themselves.
“The vast majority of operators and staff are happy to see residents getting their third dose — that’s their primary concern– but if you’re there vaccinating residents, why not vaccinate staff at the same time?” he asked.
“We have shortages of staff today, and if people have to isolate and stay home because they have the Delta variant, then that puts residents at risk as well.”
The call from long-term care workers comes as the first extensive review of COVID-19 deaths in B.C.’s long-term care system has found care homes should have had more rigorous testing for staff and a more comprehensive sick pay program.
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