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B.C.’s auditor general says data gaps during COVID-19 vaccine rollout posed risks

Obstacles included staff turnover and a lack of data on privately funded facilities
Michael Pickup appears at the legislature in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2017. Pickup, now British Columbia’s auditor general, says the Ministry of Health should have access to a registry of residents and staff in long-term care facilities as well as heath-care workers after concluding it sometimes “struggled” to collect reliable COVID-19 vaccination information for high-risk groups. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan

British Columbia’s auditor general says the Ministry of Health struggled at times to collect reliable information for groups at high risk of COVID-19 infection as it shaped its vaccination campaign.

In his latest report on the province’s COVID-19 vaccine coverage, auditor general Michael Pickup says the Health Ministry had ways to estimate vaccination rates for residents and staff in about 500 long-term care and assisted-living facilities but the process was cumbersome.

Obstacles included staff turnover and a lack of data on privately funded facilities.

“The ministry monitored vaccination rates for long-term care and assisted-living residents and staff. However, there is no centralized registry for them,” Pickup said at a new conference after his report was tabled in the legislature on Thursday.

“Therefore, in some cases, data collection had to be done manually, which meant estimates for those groups could have been inaccurate.”

The report makes two recommendations: that the province have access to a current registry of residents and staff at public and private long-term care and assisted living facilities, and also access to a current registry of health-care workers working in health authorities.

The Ministry of Health has accepted both of the auditor’s recommendations.

In response to the recommendation around long-term care and assisted living facilities, the ministry said it will initiate planning and consultations with the health authorities and operators of these facilities starting this year.

Pickup says the province was able to estimate the number of health-care workers who were vaccinated in the early stages of the rollout when vaccines were focused on those most likely to be exposed to patients with COVID-19 or to spread the virus to patients.

As more workers qualified for vaccines, the ministry continued to track the number who were vaccinated, but it did not revise its population estimate to account for newly eligible staff, meaning the coverage rate was “overstated and was not useful” from February to October 2021.

An order was issued in October 2021 requiring vaccination for all health-care workers in health authorities and the ministry was able to use health authority databases of staff to help implement the order.

Pickup says his office was told ministry and health services authority staff did not have the authority to access those databases until the introduction of the COVID-19 vaccination mandate.

“Once they had access to these databases, the ministry had adequate processes to monitor vaccination rates and regularly provided this information to decision makers,” the report says.

In response to this recommendation, the Health Ministry said establishing a permanent, up-to-date registry of health authority health-care workers, including medical staff, is “a key priority.”

The ministry said that following a September 2022 report on human resource strategies in health, it and the provincial health services authority are collaborating with health authorities to replace aging systems.

The COVID-19 vaccination program was the largest vaccination campaign in B.C. history, with nearly 14 million doses administered between December 2020 and December 2022.

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