An increasingly deadly COVID-19 outbreak at a Burnaby long-term care home has a home care providers group asking why booster shots were not rolled out faster in B.C.
The B.C. government has reported 10 deaths so far at the 95-bed Willingdon Care Centre, but a letter to family and friends posted on social media this week said there had been 12 deaths. The letter stated as many as 82 residents and 30 staff had tested positive for COVID-19.
On Friday, the province reported 11 deaths in the Fraser Health area, saying it included deaths at Willingdon. But it is not clear when those deaths actually happened — as opposed to when they were reported — and whether there are more deaths yet to be reported from the Burnaby facility.
B.C. Care Providers Association CEO Terry Lake said the family-owned facility was well run and had avoided an outbreak in the first three COVID-19 waves beginning in early 2020.
“If the residents there had had their … booster when Alberta and Ontario were giving out their boosters, it’s highly probable this would not have happened,” Lake said Friday. “We’re heartsick because we’ve been asking the Ministry of Health authorities since the first of September about … boosters.”
The B.C. government took till the end of September to announce a third COVID-19 shot for vulnerable populations, after the National Advisory Committee on Immunization finally endorsed a third shot to restore protection that may have waned over time.
But several provinces approved booster shots for residents in long-term care homes far earlier, including Alberta, Saskatchewan and Ontario. Other jurisdictions, including in the U.S., had done the same.
In Alberta, third jabs started in care homes on Sept. 1, a month before B.C. made its decision.
Alberta health officials said Friday that 62 per cent of all seniors in group care settings have received a third dose. In Ontario, provincial health officials said Friday third doses have been provided to 96 per cent of long-term care residents starting in late August.
Lake said he understands booster shots began rolling out in Fraser Health this week and that just Thursday had residents at Willingdon Care Centre been offered a third dose. The outbreak started more than two weeks ago.
“Even if it took a long time to finally make the decision, we should have been ready to go,” he said. “We’re two weeks into it. And we’re hardly underway.”
When staff at the care home asked Thursday if they could receive 40 doses that were not used, they were refused, said Lake.
Fraser Health would not answer questions about the booster shot rollout on Friday, but said by email that everyone working at Willingdon has been fully vaccinated as of Oct. 12, and the vast majority of residents had also had two COVID shots.
In an earlier briefing this week, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer, noted the Delta variant of the virus, first detected in India, can spread very quickly in communal settings.
According to information collected by the B.C. seniors advocate, the Willingdon care home only has 10 private rooms, which means there are several people in most rooms, which would make it more difficult to isolate infected residents.
COVID-19 outbreaks have jumped significantly in long-term care homes since mid-August.
There have been nearly 50 outbreaks since that time, with more than 500 residents and 200 staff infected and at least 80 deaths, according to information from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
By mid-July, outbreaks had reached zero.
Dr. Brian Conway, president and medical director of the Vancouver Infectious Diseases Centre, believes that eventually everyone will need a booster.
For select populations, such as in long-term care, where people are more vulnerable and the vaccine is waning because second doses were given six months ago or more, they need boosters sooner, he said.
“Whether we should have done it last month or last week. Well, we need to do it now,” said Conway.
And nobody should be allowed in long-term are homes until at least two weeks after they are fully vaccinated, added Conway.
There are still too many people who are unvaccinated, said Conway, and there is transmission to individuals where the vaccine effectiveness has waned or there was not a great response to begin with because they were older.