British Columbia

Only 65% of staff vaccinated at site of Kelowna outbreak, says Interior Health

Thirty-five per cent of staff at a long-term care home in Kelowna, B.C., that is currently battling a COVID-19 outbreak have not yet been vaccinated, according to the regional health authority.

B.C. seniors advocate says outbreak exposes gap in provincal health-care obligations

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna, B.C., recorded 13 cases of the virus Thursday morning, including 11 residents and two staff. (Andrew Glass/CBC)

Thirty-five per cent of staff at a long-term care home in Kelowna, B.C., that is currently battling a COVID-19 outbreak have not yet been vaccinated for the virus, according to the regional health authority. 

Cottonwoods Care Home recorded 13 cases of COVID-19 Thursday morning, including 11 residents and two staff, said Dr. Carol Fenton, a medical health officer with Interior Health. 

Fenton said about 80 per cent of residents at the home, which houses 221 beds, have received a vaccine, versus 65 per cent of staff. 

Vaccines not mandatory for workers

On Friday, B.C. Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie told CBC's Daybreak South, that the case exposes a gap in provincial health-care policy. 

"We are going to have to address this issue around the balance between the rights of workers, but also ... our obligation to protect [seniors residents]," she said.

"As we move forward, what are going to be the policies around unvaccinated staff? Because this is going to continue, and it's not just about COVID but also other infectious disease."

Mackenzie also urged B.C. health officials to increase testing of seniors care staff and residents, in order to identify early infection.  She says eight patients who tested positive were asymptomatic, yet posed an infection risk.

Mackenzie says, since the outbreak was declared, more Cottonwood staff have chosen to get vaccinated.

On Thursday, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry reiterated that vaccines, while recommended, aren't required for care-home workers. 

"None of the vaccine programs in Canada or in B.C. are mandatory, including COVID vaccines, and I don't believe this one needs to be either," she said. 

Henry has said most long-term care homes in B.C. have seen high uptake of the vaccine from residents and staff, who made up the first phase of the province's immunization plan. 

She noted a certain percentage of the Cottonwoods staff was not available the first time vaccines were offered. Others had concerns and "legitimate questions" about the new vaccines that the province has worked to address, she said. 

"Interior Health is working with the community and the care home to make sure everyone has the opportunity to be immunized and get those rates up to where we need them to be to protect people." 

Interior Health faces seniors care staff crunch

"Right now, if we said you can't work unless you're vaccinated, it would be impossible to run our facility," Interior Health's Dr Carole Fenton told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

"So we need to give it more time, so we have more of a vaccinated population and we have time to also formulate those policies."

Fenton said during typical influenza seasons, staff who aren't vaccinated are sent home without pay if there's an outbreak at their facility. 

She said she expects once the province reaches a critical mass of vaccines, it will implement a similar policy. 

She noted staff at Cottonwoods are still adhering to all prevention measures, including wearing full protective gear and physical distancing. 

Fenton said eight of the confirmed cases at Cottonwoods were vaccinated but were still within the two to three-week window period when the body is developing antibodies in response to the vaccine.

She said it was too soon to gauge the severity of the cases, noting that can take two to three weeks but pointed to data that shows the vaccines have largely curbed severe cases and deaths. 

"We'll watch this outbreak very closely to see how these outcomes are different from previous outbreaks we've had," she said. 

With files from CBC's Daybreak South


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