A pair of Semiahmoo Peninsula residents with loved ones in long-term care are questioning the logic of the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out in B.C. – from who is getting it first, to the messaging that top officials are putting out as those first doses are administered.
For Judy Reid, who is “frantic” to have her husband Ken – a resident of a long-term care facility that has been under outbreak protocol since Nov. 26 – vaccinated, the allocation of first doses to staff rather than facility residents is concerning, given a lack of evidence that vaccinated individuals won’t continue to spread the virus.
“It really freaked me out yesterday to hear that now four additional staff tested positive and it’s moved to a second unit,” Reid said, of news delivered Dec. 14 to families with loved ones at Morgan Place Residential Care.
“All we need is more spread, and it could be the beginning of the end.”
Canada’s chief public health officer Dr. Theresa Tam said last week that the spread of the virus in long-term care homes is of particular concern as infection rates rise among older Canadians who face a higher risk of COVID-19 complications.
Prior to that, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended that residents of long-term care and their caregivers be among those to receive the vaccine first.
However, Tam also said that challenges of transporting long-term care residents to designated vaccination sites will make it difficult to immunize them first.
The delivery process is complicated, officials say, by the delicate nature of the vaccine, which must be stored at temperatures below -70 C until shortly before it is administered. It can be stored in a refrigerator for up to five days, and at room temperature for up to two hours, before it is diluted and then injected.
Tam has said she is hopeful that as everyone involved gets more experienced and comfortable transporting and administering the vaccine, things could change.
B.C.’s first two doses were administered early this week. Health officials have pledged to immunize 4,000 health-care workers by the end of this week.
Reid, noting that public health nurses have travelled with “all types of vaccines that would need to be stored in a refrigerator,” isn’t convinced the COVID-19 is “impossible to transport.”
“The point is, I don’t hear any plans for their timing and timelines for addressing residents. There’s no explanation about plans, about when they plan to vaccinate my husband.”
She emphasized that her concerns, and that of others in a wives’ network she is part of, are not with Morgan Place – “they are an amazing group of people,” she said – but with Fraser Health and the provincial health officer; the former for what she says has been a lack of communication, and the latter for an apparent resistance to the use of rapid testing at long-term care sites.
Reid believes rapid testing has the potential to reduce the spread of the virus by detecting it in staff before they enter the building for their shift.
That and vaccines for the residents “kind of go together to me,” she said.
Implementing both “would help families feel a lot more secure.”
For White Rock resident Lolo Young, whose 98-year-old mother is in a Richmond care home, the main concern is that messaging around the vaccine doesn’t emphasize that those who receive it could still pass on the virus to others. And that, Young worries, will lead recipients to believe they no longer need to take precautions, such as wearing a mask.
She said B.C. Premier John Horgan, in a statement Tuesday (Dec. 15), stressed that long-term care residents are the most vulnerable, but said nothing about the risk those who receive the vaccine could still pose to that vulnerable population.
“That’s all they have to say,” Young said of the additional information.
“I don’t have a problem with the difficulties that they face (around storing and distributing the vaccine), but don’t give out the wrong message.”
Young added that she feels that too many Canadians are staying silent on the matter.
“Canadians are very obedient and very quiet. I’ve had enough of that,” she said.
“They’re already starting vaccinations, so if they don’t give out the message (about the continued risk) immediately, there are already people who will be negligent.”
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