Most of B.C.’s long-term care home staff and residents have received their first vaccination for COVID-19, with essential visitors and assisted living facilities also included in the first phase of B.C.’s vaccine program.
Vaccine protection is expected to allow visitor restrictions to be eased by March, Health Minister Adrian Dix said as the ministry updated its vaccination program to reach the general population by April.
“What you’re going to see in the month of March is changes in both social activity within care homes to allow more activity within the care home on a normal day,” Dix said Jan. 22. “And, in addition to that, changes with respect to visitation, because once people and residents are made safe, the immunization process is going to allow a lot of things to happen, including more visits from family memories and love ones and friends.”
B.C.’s Seniors Advocate Isobel Mackenzie reported in November on close family members being refused access to elderly relatives in care facilities, with restrictions going beyond public health orders that define who is an “essential visitor.” People used to providing meal and grooming support for elderly parents were turned away as care homes struggled to avoid deadly virus outbreaks among frail residents.
The ministry put in place an appeal process after Mackenzie’s report, but Dix said the vaccine rollout is the best way to move forward safely. He noted that there have been 650 deaths of care home residents since the pandemic began, and as many as 20 in assisted living, the majority of all B.C. deaths related to COVID-19.
Most long-term care facilities have received vaccine, and about half of assisted living residents and staff were given first doses of either Pfizer or Moderna vaccine as of this week. The first phase of vaccine rollout also includes and estimated 8,000 essential visitors to long-term care and assisted living.
“The concern has been that those rules have not been applied equally and everywhere, but our hope is, and the purpose of doing long-term care first dose and then second dose, with assisted living first dose and then second dose, is to make those places safer,” Dix said.
Also in the first phase of vaccine priority, to be completed by the end of January if enough vaccine is available, are people waiting for a space in long-term care, high-risk hospital, paramedic and public health staff, and people in remote Indigenous reserves.