British Columbia

B.C. Nurses' Union criticizes COVID-19 vaccine rollout for allowing queue jumping

The B.C. Nurses' Union is criticizing the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, just two weeks after the provincial immunization campaign began.

Ministry of Health says front-line health workers are priorities for immunization

The head of the B.C. Nurses Union says unexplained delays and bureaucracy have hampered efforts to protect nurses. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

The B.C. Nurses' Union is criticizing the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, just two weeks after the provincial immunization campaign began.

In an interview with CBC News, BCNU president Christine Sorensen accuses administrators of "jump(ing) the queue" for immunization before front-line health-care staff.  She says unexplained delays and bureaucracy have hampered efforts to protect nurses.

"That's unacceptable," Sorensen told CBC News. "While we have doses of vaccine in this province, they should not be in storage. They should be in the arms of people who are caring for patients on the front line."

While the B.C. government has issued directives to prioritize immunizations, Sorensen says some people appear to be getting preferential treatment.  

Administrators receiving vaccine

"I do know that we have seen people jump the queue, shall we say … including people who do not work in COVID units or work in point-of-care with high-risk patients," Sorensen says, "I'm aware of people … who are, yes, in administrative roles."

Sorensen says she has received reports of preferential treatment from health districts across the province including reports that clinical pharmacists and general physicians are among those being immunized, yet they are not identifiably part of a priority group.

In an emailed statement to CBC News on Sunday, the Ministry of Health says health-care workers in long-term care homes and on the front-lines of COVID-19 response in acute care are being prioritized.

Heath-care workers from the Vancouver Coastal Health authority wait in line for their COVID-19 vaccination in Vancouver on Dec. 22. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

It also said "some key outbreak response members were immunized, particularly ones who are part of response teams that go into long-term care to help manage outbreaks."

The provincial government has stated the first round of vaccinations in December would focus on: 

  • Long-term care and assisted living facility residents and staff.
  • Health care facility staff for COVID-19 patients in settings like intensive care units, COVID-19 wards and emergency departments.
  • Indigenous people living in rural or remote communities.
  • High-risk people living in group settings like shelters.
  • People over 80 years old.

The union president also criticized the rollout to those most at risk. On its COVID-19 website the B.C. government states: "Public Health will arrange for … priority groups to be vaccinated against COVID-19. No action is required on your part." 

"There are communication issues where it appears staff are not being made aware that the vaccine is available at their site," Sorensen says. "And then for those nurses who are working in the COVID units who are being made aware the vaccine is available, they are not being provided relief to get the shot."

Northern Health stops shots for holiday

The B.C. Nurses' Union has particular concerns about immunizations in the Northern Health region.

Sorenson says no vaccinations were given during the Dec. 24-27 holiday break. 

"There's no reason. That vaccine could have been administered. Nurses are quite capable of administering injections and vaccines. We have peer immunizers. Physicians can administer the vaccine," she said. 

"It is likely due to storage and accessibility and tracking. But nurses are health-care professionals who are quite capable of managing all of those things."

The Ministry of Health confirmed clinics were closed throughout the province on Christmas, but that health authorities held limited clinics on Boxing Day, as well as on Dec. 27 and 28. It says clinics should return to full capacity on Tuesday.

"With the statutory holidays and the logistics involved in operating these clinics, clinics were closed on Christmas to give health-care staff a much-needed, albeit short, break over the holidays," reads the statement.

 The Northern Health region reported its highest single-day COVID count last Wednesday, with 68 new infections.

CBC contacted Northern Health for comment, but did not receive a response by time of publication.

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