B.C.’s long-term care and assisted-living workers will be required to be fully vaccinated by October.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry issued the order Thursday, expressing concern about transmission among unvaccinated people and in geographic “pockets where immunization rates are lower.”
“I recognize that this is a change from the direction we announced earlier in the spring,” Henry said.
“We now see with the transmission of the new variants that we need extra protection in this highly risky situation.”
The order, which requires workers to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 12, also applies to volunteers.
Unvaccinated staff will be required to wear PPE and get tested regularly in the interim.
The order applies to private, contracted and health authority-owned facilities as a condition of employment for workers at those sites.
Henry said the order was being issued due to concerns about the higher level of severe illness and death for residents of such facilities if they do in fact contract COVID-19.
Regarding any potential legal issues emerging from the mandate, Henry said she “had a conversation with the privacy commissioner [Michael McEvoy] and he is very supportive of this being a proportional and reasonable response to what we know is an ongoing risky situation.”
For workers unable to get vaccinated due to medical reasons, Henry said the province would be working with employers and unions to navigate the issue.
To date, 71.6% of British Columbians over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated while 82.3% have received at least one dose.
But Henry said it’s unclear how many long-term care and assisted-living workers have been fully vaccinated since there is no requirement for them to report their vaccination status to their employers.
The new order will help health officials determine that information, she added.
Health Minister Adrian Dix said it was his expectation that visitors to long-term care and assisted living facilities are fully vaccinated.
If visitors are not fully vaccinated, measures will be taken to ensure people are protected, he added.
“It is not mandatory for a citizen to be vaccinated in B.C.,” Dix said. “But there are things that you may not be able to do.”
Meanwhile, Henry said more details would be coming next week about vaccination plans for students returning to post-secondary institutions in September.