Direct-support staff who work with individuals who have developmental disabilities should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, says the head of UNITI. (Metro photo)

Direct-support staff who work with individuals who have developmental disabilities should be prioritized for the COVID-19 vaccine, says the head of UNITI. (Metro photo)

Support workers for those with disabilities left behind in B.C. vaccine-rollout ‘oversight’

UNITI CEO Doug Tennant says misunderstanding is putting vulnerable people at greater risk

Support staff who work with people who have developmental disabilities should be given the same priority for the COVID-19 vaccine as other frontline workers, says the head of UNITI, a partnership of societies – including Semiahoo House Society – that provide services and supports for people with disabilities and their families.

Doug Tennant took to social media Monday (April 5) to express concern about the exclusion, which he describes as an oversight by government and health officials that is putting both direct-support workers and the people they support at greater risk.

“These are workers who provide close personal care to disabled people who often cannot wear masks, are at much higher risk, and, at this point, have not been vaccinated (waiting for their letters allowing them to do so),” Tennant said in his tweet.

“It does set up situations which are not as safe as they could be,” Tennant elaborated to Peace Arch News Tuesday.

“Government and Fraser Health either doesn’t understand the work that direct-support workers do… or they believe that those employees are being vaccinated as healthcare workers, which is not true.”

Fraser Health officials said it is the Ministry of Health that determines who is prioritized for immunizations. Ministry officials said Tuesday that the selection of frontline workers is based on the known risk of transmission, as well as the nature and size of the workplace environment, including if workers must live or work in congregate settings.

B.C. health officials announced on March 18 that frontline workers, including police, firefighters, child-care, grocery store, postal and K-12 education staff would start getting the vaccine this month.

READ MORE: B.C. emergency, grocery, school staff get COVID-19 vaccine starting April

The groups were identified by the COVID-19 Workplace Task Group and public health. They also include bylaw and quarantine officers, manufacturing workers, wholesale and warehousing employees, staff in congregate housing such as ski hills, correctional facilities staff and cross-border transport staff.

In announcing the move, Premier John Horgan credited being ahead of schedule on age-based community vaccinations and the arrival of the AstraZeneca vaccine in enabling the parallel system for frontline workers to proceed.

(Due to concerns with use of the latter in those younger than 55, the parallel program was paused last week.)

People deemed clinically extremely vulnerable were to start receiving letters enabling them to book vaccination appointments as of March 29, a further announcement promised.

Tennant said he believes part of what led to the exclusion of support workers from the priority list is a continued misunderstanding of both the work that’s being done in the community-living sector – and within congregate settings – and the rights of people with developmental disabilities to be treated equally.

Many believe that community living falls under healthcare, and therefore that anything happening in the health sector is also happening in community living, he said.

“And that’s simply not the case.”

Despite the work they do and the risks to themselves and those they support, UNITI’s direct-support workers – there are around 150 – he said, are having to follow the guidelines for the general population and wait until their age group is called.

“It’s not a good situation.”

As an example of the “weird way that the system is set up,” UNITI staff who support people with acquired brain injury services – which are health-funded – have been vaccinated, he said.

Ministry officials told PAN that all workers will get the vaccine ahead of schedule; that more details about industries and sectors prioritized for vaccination will be available in the days and weeks ahead; and that the frontline-worker list will be reviewed based on latest-available data and confirmation of the vaccine supply B.C. is expected to receive in the coming weeks and months.

Tennant is also frustrated that the appointment-booking letters promised to those “clinically extremely vulnerable” – a group that includes people with developmental disabilities – have yet to arrive, while staff in the same group who have conditions such as asthma or diabetes got their go-ahead a week or two ago.

READ MORE: B.C.’s ‘extremely medically vulnerable’ can begin booking COVID-19 shots March 29

“This also speaks to a group of people who are treated differently than other British Columbians because of the custodial systems that we have in place for people with developmental disabilities,” Tennant said.

“When it’s a custodial system, the rights part often gets forgotten or missed. If it was a group that didn’t have the societal barriers… I believe they would have gotten their vaccinations a long time ago.”

– with files from Tom Fletcher

CoronavirusdisabilitiesSurrey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

The Yunesit'in Government in partnership with the BC Wildfire Service will be conducting a prescribed burn seven kilometres west of the community and 25 kilometres south of Alexis Creek on the south side of the Chilcotin River. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Prescribed burning planned to reduce wildfire risk near Yunesit’in

Burning may begin as early as April 13 in partnership with BC Wildfire Service

An aerial view of the Williams Lake Stockyards taken during a flyover in 2020. (Monica Lamb-Yorski photo - Williams Lake Tribune)
Williams Lake Bull Show and Sale in its 84th year

This year’s sale will be online and in person

B.C. Cattlemen’s Association general manager Kevin Boon. (B.C. Cattlemen’s Association photo)
COVID, BSE, water access and private land rights: B.C. Cattlemen’s general manager weighs in

Kevin Boon said positive aspect of pandemic is more people interested in where their food comes from

Cariboo Chilcotin Conservation Society communications officer Brianna van de Wijngaard reflects on World Water Day March 22. (Photo submitted)
DOWN TO EARTH: World Water Day means something different for everyone

This year’s World Water Day theme was Valuing Water

Williams Lake Cycling Club president Shawn Lewis (from left), Jeremy Stoward of New Path Forestry, WLCC Boitanio Bike Park director Andrew Hutchinson accept a cheque from Williams Lake and District Credit Union investment specialist Abigail King. (Photo submitted)
Williams Lake Cycling Club gets bike park donation to bolster upgrades, maintenance

Plans are to complete three rideable lines each year, he added

Burnaby MLA Raj Chouhan presides as Speaker of the B.C. legislature, which opened it spring session April 12 with a speech from the throne. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C. NDP promises more health care spending, business support in 2021 budget

John Horgan government to ‘carefully return to balanced budgets’

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A lady wears a sticker given out after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS
B.C.’s COVID-19 case count slows after last week’s peak

3,219 new cases since Friday, 18 additional deaths

North Cowichan councillor Tek Manhas did not violate the municipality’s code of conduct by posting a sexist meme on Facebook, council concludes. (File photo)
B.C. municipality to take no action against councillor who posted sexist meme

Tek Manhas’s meme doesn’t violate North Cowichan council’s code of conduct, municipality concludes

—Image: contributed
Indoor wine tastings still allowed in B.C., not considered a ‘social gathering’

“Tasting is really just part of the retail experience. The analogy I use is you wouldn’t buy a pair of pants without trying them on.”

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Most Read