Staff vaccination rates vary at Hamilton long-term-care homes hit worst by COVID

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Staff vaccination rates at the site of one of Hamilton’s worst outbreaks still have some ways to go to reach the provincial target, as the city resumed vaccinations for health-care workers on Friday.

This week, the CEO of Shalom Village in Westdale released the number of the home’s staff who’ve received the COVID-19 vaccination. The numbers offer a glimpse into the rollout and uptake of vaccines in this high-priority group in long-term care.

Shalom Village, a facility offering long-term care and assisted living, was home to the second-worst outbreak in the city, with 218 cases and 20 deaths from Dec. 9 to Feb. 5.

In an email this week, CEO Ken Callaghan said 120 staff out of about 173 “active” staff have received at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Of those, he said “the vast majority” have received two doses, but didn’t provide numbers.

Four additional staff received their first doses on Tuesday, when the city’s mobile clinic came to vaccinate more residents, Callaghan said.

At 69 per cent, Shalom Village’s current vaccination numbers fall below a provincial goal of 75 per cent vaccination rate for the city, and a “per organization” target set by a Hamilton “vaccination strategy” group, of which Callaghan is a member.

The province’s goal is a “planning target” which represents the proportion of Hamilton adults expected to volunteer to receive the vaccine. The number is based on previous annual vaccine uptake, but does not limit who can receive the vaccine.

Shalom staff began receiving vaccines on Dec. 28, with 10 spots allocated per day to the home at the Hamilton Health Sciences clinic. However, the clinic shut down on Jan. 27 after the province ordered that vaccines should only be given to seniors’ home residents due to shortages. That clinic reopened on Friday.

Shalom’s numbers are also less than vaccination rates at Grace Villa, the site of the city’s worst outbreak with 234 cases and 44 deaths from Nov. 25 to Jan. 19. In an email Friday, the CEO of APANS Health Services, which runs the east Mountain home, said 123 out of 139 staff have received both vaccine doses, about 88 per cent.

Mary Raithby added that 105 out of 108 residents have received both vaccine doses.

“We continue to have staff and residents vaccinated according to the public health guidelines and vaccine availability,” she said.

Callaghan said by email on Thursday that he is “comfortable where Shalom is on staff vaccinations,” noting the current numbers are “not where we will end up with the vaccination site reopening.”

He said there are additional staff on the list to receive their first doses as the city’s fixed-site clinic resumes. But Callaghan didn’t specify how many staff were on that list, only saying there are 34 staff and essential caregivers combined.

Some have expressed concern over a reluctance among staff to receive the vaccine, or barriers preventing them from easily doing so.

In mid-January, The Spectator reported concerns from SEIU Healthcare — a union representing health-care workers, including at Shalom Village — that workers faced barriers to accessing vaccines. The union advocated for paid sick leave for workers who experience side effects from the vaccine, as well as travelling costs and time for staff to consult with a doctor prior to receiving the vaccine.

Language barriers and scheduling issues were also concerns. Staff vaccinations in long-term care are essential, as experts have pointed out that COVID-19 only enters a home from the outside.

At the time, Hamilton’s medical officer of health was pleased that vaccine uptake in long-term-care and retirement home workers was more than 65 per cent.

Callaghan declined an interview request about staff responses to vaccinations and whether Shalom Village took or is taking steps to address any concerns.

As for residents, Callaghan said about 97 per cent have received both doses of the vaccine. It is not clear how many residents that represents.

“The only residents not receiving both vaccinations were due to their refusals to be vaccinated,” he said, noting all residents who consented directly or through their attorneys have received both doses of the vaccine.

Maria Iqbal, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator