Province pushes to get staff vaccinated at Gatineau care home

Health experts are closely watching a COVID-19 outbreak at a long-term care home in Gatineau, Que., where residents and some staff have been vaccinated.

5 deaths, more than 60 cases in ongoing COVID-19 outbreak

CHSLD Lionel-Émond near the Hull Hospital in Gatineau, Que., is the site of a COVID-19 outbreak with 43 residents and 18 staff members infected. Five people have died. (Hugo Belanger/Radio-Canada)

Health experts are closely watching an outbreak at a long-term care home in Gatineau, Que., where residents and some staff have already been vaccinated.

This week, a team of health workers and infectious disease specialists were deployed as reinforcements to CHSLD Lionel-Émond.

The home is the site of an outbreak, with 43 residents and 18 staff members infected as of Tuesday. Five people have died.

The "SWAT" team is made up of experts from Sainte-Justine University Hospital in Montreal. They're examining the protocols in place and are helping Gatineau's health authority get the situation under control, while providing support to the home's workers. 

New team to investigate outbreak at long-term care home where most residents have first vaccine dose

2 years ago
Duration 0:35
Dr. Valérie Lamarre, one of the infectious disease specialists deployed to CHSLD Lionel-Émond, says the team is there to determine how the COVID-19 outbreak occurred and help staff control the spread of the virus.

"Coming from the outside, sometimes it helps to pinpoint some problems," said Dr. Valérie Lamarre, a pediatrician and infectious disease specialist sent into the home. 

According to Quebec's public health research institute, less than half of staff at the home opted to be immunized. At a press briefing Tuesday, Minister of Health and Social Services Christian Dubé, said he had reached an agreement with the unions to encourage vaccination.

Vaccine hesitancy a problem

Dr. Peter Juni, scientific director of Ontario's COVID-19 Science Advisory Table, said it's a stark reminder to "address these hesitancies" around getting immunized.

"It's a way for them to protect themselves and to protect also their residents," he said, adding that having more staff vaccinated could have made a difference in the outbreak.

While Canada's National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) has recommended the interval between people's first and second doses be stretched to four months, Juni said long-term care homes should be an exception as they have the "highest risk."

The good news, according to Juni, is that the fact Lionel-Émond residents got their first dose means the death toll is lower than it would have been otherwise.

Another problem may, in fact, have been the home's use of rapid COVID-19 tests. According to a tweet from Health Minister Christian Dubé's press secretary Wednesday afternoon, rapid testing was used in the home to test employees, but there were some false negatives and retesting had to be done using the regular swabs that are sent to a lab for analysis. 

More needed to be vaccinated for 'herd immunity'

Dr. Zainab Abdurrahman, clinical immunologist and allergist at McMaster University, said it's definitely possible that people can test positive for COVID-19 after just one dose of the vaccine — particularly older Canadians.

Up to 90 per cent of a population needs to be immunized in order to achieve herd immunity, Abdurrahman said, which is why it's critical people still follow public health measures.

"Although it is a bit scary to hear about this, it's also important that we figure out what may have gone wrong or what areas that we can improve to prevent future outbreaks happening in long-term care homes," Abdurrahman said. 

What's happened at Lionel-Émond doesn't necessarily speak to the effectiveness of the vaccine, she added, as so far "this hasn't happened with the other long-term care homes."

With files from Radio-Canada

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