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Rapid tests urged for B.C. care homes amid COVID-19 vaccine delays

Burnaby-based BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) issued the plea Tuesday
Pfizer Canada COVID-19 vaccine
Pfizer Canada COVID-19 vaccine. (via Pfizer Canada)

A group that represent B.C. care homes wants a rapid testing program deployed for staff, residents and essential caregivers who are not yet vaccinated.

The Burnaby-based BC Care Providers Association (BCCPA) issued the plea Tuesday amid news that the pace of B.C.'s vaccination program could be disrupted by limited supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.

“While we commend the province for taking a step forward with a pilot program several weeks ago, it’s now time for B.C. to scale up its rapid testing efforts to include seniors care homes province-wide,” said BCCPA and EngAge BC CEO Terry Lake, in a news release. “With 1.3 million rapid test kits purchased by the federal government currently warehoused in B.C. and ready for use, getting the kits into the hands of seniors care providers should be a top priority for preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2 in the seniors population.”

B.C.’s first rapid test pilot – launched in early December – was conducted at five long-term care homes in Vancouver, said the BCCPA, adding that the program has “already identified multiple asymptomatic COVID-19 positive healthcare staff, including one example that prevented a potentially deadly spread of the coronavirus in a long-term care home. While no screening test is determined to be 100% accurate, rapid tests bring a critical layer of prevention against the spread of COVID-19.”

B.C. is on track to receive 28,275 previously guaranteed doses of the Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE vaccine this week, but next week will be a different story.

The federal government revealed that Pfizer is reducing COVID-19 vaccine deliveries to Canada temporarily in a bid to ramp up production capacity for European customers.

And while the pharmaceutical giant will meet its delivery obligations for this coming week, B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry cautioned on Monday (January 18) that the delays will be felt beginning the final week of January and continue for the following two weeks after that.

“The supply comes back up again very quickly,” Henry said during a media briefing. “It’s not a matter of months, it’s a matter of weeks.”

She said the shortfall will add up to 60,000 doses over three weeks — or about half of what was expected — before being made up in March.

“By being overly cautious about using the tests in long-term care and assisted living homes, we are missing an opportunity to bring quality of life back to seniors during this pandemic. Critics have pointed out that B.C. has the most restrictive visitor policy in the country,” said Lake, in the news release. “We know that rapid antigen testing 2-to-3 times per week among care staff that have not been vaccinated can be managed effectively. Rapid tests can reduce transmission from residents transferred from acute care into care homes as well. B.C.’s seniors care providers are prepared to support rapid testing so that their residents, staff and essential caregivers are kept safe.”

  • With files from Tyler Orton, Business in Vancouver