More than 142,000 people working in health care, long term care and assisted living now have their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine in B.C., after the shots were first made available to them in December.
The group has been a priority in the province’s vaccination campaign — both to protect front-line workers from infection and reduce the number of outbreaks in hospitals, care homes and other medical settings.
What’s not clear, in most health regions, is the percentage of eligible staff who have been vaccinated, and how many workers have yet to get a shot.
In the Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) region, the number has surpassed a key benchmark in infection control — 80 per cent.
Last week, VCH reported that 82.9 per cent of its eligible staff had received a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, leaving more than 4,200 workers unvaccinated.
“Vaccination rates exceeding 80 per cent are extremely good — [but] we can do better, and I think if health authorities and other health employers continue to make vaccine appointments available to health-care workers, those percentages will still rise even higher,” said Mike Old, spokesperson for the Hospital Employees’ Union, which has more than 50,000 members across the province.
Old emphasized the importance of having health care workers vaccinated, and encouraged union members, other health-care workers and the general public to get their shots as soon as they can.
He said the success of the vaccination campaign in B.C.’s long-term care homes demonstrates how lives can be saved by stopping the spread of the virus through vaccination.
CBC News first requested health-care worker vaccination rates more than two weeks ago. On Thursday the Ministry of Health shared the total number of staff who have received a first does of vaccine in each health region:
- Interior Health – 14,534
- Fraser Health – 30,522
- Vancouver Coastal – 31,119
- Island Health – 14,384
- Northern Health – 4,575
But it failed to provide the total number of eligible staff, making it impossible to gauge the success of the campaign.
The ministry also provided, without the total number of eligible staff, the number of vaccinated long-term care staff:
- Interior Health – 8,052
- Fraser Health – 12,190
- Vancouver Coastal – 10,195
- Island Health – 9,263
- Northern Health – 1,148
Similarly, numbers for vaccinated assisted-living staff were released:
- Interior Health – 1,160
- Fraser Health – 2,643
- Vancouver Coastal – 1,017
- Island Health – 1,349
- Northern Health – 138
CBC News has been pressing Fraser Health for its staff vaccination rates for more than two weeks. Initially the health authority declined to provide the numbers, with no explanation. Eventually it deferred to the Ministry of Health.
Fraser Health, VCH, the Health Ministry, and Dr. Penny Ballem, who is overseeing the province’s COVID-19 vaccination campaign have all declined interview requests regarding health-care staff vaccination.
According to Old, his union members share some of the same anxieties around vaccination as members of the general public. But he said he hasn’t heard too much pushback about getting a shot.
“Generally speaking when there’s good info about vaccine safety and efficacy … it really does help,” he said.
Old said it’s important to removed barriers to vaccination, such as continuing to offer clinics at times when health-care workers — who have shifts at all times of the day and night — are able to attend. But he said, generally, the province has managed to reach a good number of workers.
“There’s no question that the vaccination campaign in health care has been very, very successful, especially in long-term care.”
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