Kelowna care home outbreak: Did vaccine hesitancy lead to low vaccination numbers for employees?
Published Friday, March 12, 2021 7:22PM PST Last Updated Friday, March 12, 2021 7:57PM PST
VANCOUVER -- It appears a relatively low vaccination rate among employees at a Kelowna care home may not be due to vaccine hesitancy, but may point to other issues with the vaccine rollout in care homes.
Thirteen people, including two staff members, have become sick amid an outbreak at the Cottonwoods Care Centre.
This week, Interior Health revealed roughly 65 per cent of staff at the care centre had been vaccinated, leaving about 35 per cent of staff unvaccinated, despite the rollout starting at the facility in December.
“There are a number of reasons staff may not have received the vaccine,” Karen Bloemink with Interior Health, which runs the care home, told reporters Friday.
Her comment came just a day after provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry alluded to vaccine hesitancy being one of the factors in the vaccination rate at Cottonwoods and other B.C. care facilities.
“They had legitimate questions about these new vaccines,” Henry said Thursday, noting some workers raised their concerns during the first few weeks of the rollout.
“We are now addressing them. We now have more confidence. We now know many more of us have had the vaccine, and it is safe."
Interior Health’s chief medical health officer, Dr. Albert de Villiers, provided more insight to the situation Friday.
“We work in different shifts. Some people might have been new to the facilities. People come and go. There’s new people coming, there’s old people going,” he said. “It’s more they were not available. They might have been off on leave, they might have been gone.”
“It’s an ongoing effort to make sure we vaccinate all the staff,” he added.
Interior Health has not provided numbers on how many workers at the facility may have refused the vaccine, or for what reasons.
Roughly 82 per cent of residents at the large facility had received a vaccine by Feb. 15.
It’s believed the Cottonwoods outbreak started in a short-stay unit, where people may be placed between time in hospital and long-term care.
“Some of them might not have been vaccinated before they actually went to short-stay,” de Villiers said.
Terry Lake, with the B.C. Care Providers Association, said the Cottonwoods outbreak points to needing further measures in care homes, even when staff and residents have been vaccinated.
“To have 35 per cent of workers not vaccinated, for whatever reason, is deeply concerning and disappointing. It’s a real risk to the residents and their families,” Lake told CTV News.
His group has been pushing for rapid testing for care home staff in an effort to protect vulnerable residents further.
“We have been talking about the need for some sort of mechanism to ensure that unvaccinated workers do not pose a risk to residents,” Lake said. “This is an area that is still weak, and we need to strengthen it.”
Interior Health said efforts to boost vaccination rates at Cottonwoods are continuous, despite the ongoing outbreak.