All B.C. long-term care and assisted living workers must be vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 12 as a condition of their employment, health officials announced on Thursday (Aug. 12).
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said this will be enforced by an incoming public health order, noting that while B.C. had hoped to avoid mandating vaccinations, new factors like the more infectious Delta variant had forced the province’s hand.
Henry said that until the Oct. 12 deadline, unvaccinated workers will have to wear additional personal protective equipment and be tested frequently. Those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons will be worked with on a one-on-one basis, she added.
The requirement will apply to all long-term care and assisted living facilities, whether public, private or contracted, and include volunteers and personal service providers. Visitors do not have to be immunized, although they will have to take additional safety measures before seeing their loved ones.
Henry said that while in many facilities 100 per cent of workers are vaccinated, in some the immunization rate is “lower than average,” and that the level of risk is not acceptable. The province was not able to provide exact vaccination rates for long-term care or assisted living facilities.
Discussions about mandatory vaccination for health care workers outside of long-term care and assisted living are ongoing, she added, and an announcement about immunization policies for post-secondary institutions is expected next week.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said the mandate was needed because outbreaks in long-term care and assisted living are disruptive to both residents and staff. The eight current outbreaks in long-term care facilities were started by unvaccinated individuals.
He also cited the recent rise in cases – B.C. recorded 536 infections yesterday – but called the increase “qualitatively different” than prior waves. Dix said that people outside of health care will not have to get vaccinated but that their lack of immunization may limit where they can go and what they can do. Henry said it was “perfectly valid” for businesses to impose COVID-19 vaccination rules on workers and customers.
The provincial health officer said that the current surge in cases is being driven “overwhelmingly” by unvaccinated or partially vaccinated individuals and not the nearly 72 per cent of British Columbians ages 12 and up who have received both doses.