BY JANET INGRAM-JOHNSON
In the minefield of human rights, whose rights come first?
For politicians, lawyers, physicians and ethicists, this can be a groundbreaking challenge, especially during a deadly pandemic. But for a great many people, the biggest challenge of the COVID-19 pandemic has been keeping vulnerable seniors protected from a virus that kills them disproportionately.
How, when most care homes were under strict lockdown, was the virus transmitted to the places where vulnerable seniors live out their final years? Mainly via the people who work there. (In some instances, residents returning from hospital, or new residents, brought the virus with them.) Despite the fact that the majority of staff and residents in long-term care facilities have reportedly been vaccinated, the latest B.C. report shows outbreaks are still occurring.
Care-home staff in B.C. have been restricted from working at more than one facility, to try to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but there are valid concerns that some lower-paid workers without good sick benefits (especially part-time or temporary workers whose income has been severely reduced) might still feel pressured to work when unwell. Some have done so and unfortunately triggered outbreaks.
Canada’s slow-from-the-gate vaccination rates vary widely, but many seniors have now received at least one “jab”. In care homes, the rates of vaccination among residents are very high. Sadly, this is not always the case among their staff. Recently, the BC Care Providers Association held an online panel discussion about mandatory vaccinations. View the discussion with experts here.
Surely, it’s time that everyone employed to care for vulnerable seniors should have to be vaccinated against any potentially deadly, contagious condition? Those who enter the healthcare field have one overarching credo: Do No Harm. In Quebec, the province has announced that care home staff will have to show proof of vaccinations or undergo frequent COVID-19 testing. It is believed to be the only province to introduce such rules.
Refusals of free vaccinations are caused by doubts and misinformation about the side effects or the vaccines’ effectiveness. Sometimes, refusals can be attributed to a lack of education or cultural backgrounds, and awareness programs continue to make headway in these areas. Sometimes there are genuine medical issues behind non-acceptance. There will always be some exceptions to a blanket workplace requirement, but other countries — New Zealand, Australia, Italy, some U.S. states, and other parts of Europe — have already introduced mandatory protocols and continue to negotiate that aforementioned minefield of human rights.
These countries are democracies, not dictatorships. Isn’t it time for Canada, including British Columbia, to do the same? There is a surging groundswell of support for political action. British Columbians have a most effective voice in provincial Seniors’ Advocate Isobel Mackenzie. (https://www.seniorsadvocatebc.ca/about-the-advocate/) Her online door is always open.
It is widely accepted that, if you choose to work in health care, your priority is to care for others in need. Keep yourself and your family safe and well, yes of course, but your duty is to those relying on you.
People in their declining years need to know that those employed to care directly for them will not infect them. Please sign a petition here.
Janet Ingram-Johnson is a retired journalist whose mother lives in a Fraser Valley care home where staff vaccination rates range from 78% to around 90%, depending on the area within the multi-building complex.
She is spearheading a petition (below) to the government via a new family council at the care complex, Tabor Village in Fraser Health. The facility experienced high death counts among residents during the pandemic.