COVID-19 outbreak at British Columbia long-term care home includes vaccinated residents


Isobel Mackenzie speaks during a press conference at the provincial government offices in Vancouver, on March 19, 2014.


[Excerpt] The virus entered Cottonwoods Care Centre in Kelowna, B.C., through a wing meant for short stays by people recovering from surgery. A week and a half later, 23 people have contracted the virus that causes COVID-19, including eight who had at least one dose of the vaccine.

Cottonwoods has the largest of three nursing home outbreaks in British Columbia, where these facilities have otherwise seen infections plummetsince the province began vaccinating residents and staff in December.

The events at Cottonwoods underscore how the vaccines can’t eliminate outbreaks in long-term care homes, which have housed more than half of all the people killed by the virus in B.C. But the outbreak also shows they are making the virus less lethal – so far, no one at Cottonwoods has died or been hospitalized after getting COVID-19. And it serves as a cautionary tale of how important it is to encourage staff in such facilities to get the vaccine.

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“We’re watching it, we certainly do want to see good, high levels of vaccination of staff in care homes – we would hopefully see well over 80 per cent,” said Isobel Mackenzie, B.C.’s Seniors Advocate, an independent watchdog who reports to the Health Ministry. “Clearly the vaccine has been effective because the dramatic drop in long-term care outbreaks – and cases – is not matched by a dramatic decrease of cases in the community.

“It’s not because we’ve just gotten rid of COVID, the vaccine is highly effective.”

After the virus entered Cottonwoods on March 7, mass testing revealed 23 people have contracted COVID-19 in the 221-bed facility owned and operated by the Interior Health authority. Variants of concern have not been discovered among these cases.

Many who tested positive were asymptomatic or only mildly sick, according to Ms. Mackenzie, who has been communicating with Interior Health. Some residents may have also been unable to verbalize that they were feeling sick, she added.

The authority said efforts are under way to bring more vaccine to staff: Only 65 per cent of workers got jabbed at previous pop-up clinics in the facility in January and February. That’s well below B.C.’s average immunization rate of more than 90 per cent for residents and nursing home employees in the sector.

Public-health and union officials have blamed a combination of factors leading to so few staff at Cottonwoods getting a dose of the vaccine, including poor communication about the timing of previous immunization clinics.

However, Bonnie Henry, B.C.’s Provincial Health Officer, recently hinted that vaccine hesitancy may have also played a role.

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