A large and deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a Burnaby care home has prompted calls for the B.C. government to speed up the rollout of vaccine booster shots to vulnerable seniors.
As of Friday, 10 residents of the Willingdon Care Centre had died in an outbreak involving at least 100 cases. Seventy-eight of those cases were among residents, representing 82 per cent of the seniors living at the facility.
“It’s a heartbreaking situation, and with a faster rollout of the booster, I think this might have been avoided,” Terry Lake, CEO of the B.C. Care Providers Association, said.
Third doses are now seen as a crucial protection for the extremely vulnerable, who produce a weaker immune response to the vaccine, research has shown.
The National Advisory Committee on Immunization officially recommended booster shots for people in residential care and the severely immunocompromised on Sept. 28, and B.C.’s own rollout has been underway for about two weeks.
The province has dolled out about 42,000 third doses so far, but only a fraction of them have gone to people living in care homes, mostly in the Lower Mainland.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry defended the pace of the rollout this week, saying the province was relying on global data about waning vaccine effectiveness at about six months, and was following NACI’s guidance.
But Lake pointed out that B.C. has not always waited for NACI — the province acted before the committee in extending the gap between first and second doses last spring — and that both Alberta and Ontario had begun giving booster shots weeks ago.
He said B.C.’s current timeline would see many seniors wait until mid-November before their third dose, up to 10 months after receiving a second dose.
“We know that is leaving it far too late and we will see more outbreaks and more deaths unless we speed this up,” Lake said.
The BC Liberal opposition is also pushing the province to act faster.
Interim leader Shirley Bond said there are also additional protections the province has neglected to implement to protect people in residential care.
“The concern we’re hearing is the fact that other jurisdictions moved ahead much more quickly than we did in B.C.,” she said.
“We’ve been calling for the use of rapid testing for example and expanded testing options from the beginning of the pandemic. We know that long-term care is one of the paces where that could be used more broadly.”
While B.C. has managed to hold daily new COVID-19 cases steady over the last month, the number of fatalities has risen dramatically in recent weeks.
While the province has not released updated data on death by age, as of Oct. 2, the overwhelming majority of fatalities has remained among people aged over 70.
With vaccine immunity waning and about 30 per cent of new cases among double-vaccinated people, it means hundreds of thousands of seniors living in the community could also be at higher risk.
The province is expected to provide details about booster doses for seniors living out of care in the coming week.
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