Health-care workers group in B.C. demand better mask policy at COVID-19 vaccination centres

A group of physicians, nurses and health scientists in B.C. are urging the Ministry of Health to provide all health-care workers who work at vaccination centres with N95 masks or other well-fitted higher-grade masks.

Lyne Filiatrault, a retired ER doctor and member of Protect Our Province B.C., says the group has been receiving emails from concerned health-care workers who have been urgently requested to help administer COVID-19 immunizations at mass clinics.

She said immunizers have been told they will not be provided with KN95 masks, which are similar to N95 respirator masks.

“Anybody that goes in an indoor space right now, not just health-care workers at mass vaccination centres but everybody, should be wearing high-grade well-fitted masks,” Filiatrault told CBC News.

“And if they don’t have access to one, they should be provided with one.”

She said scientists have proven that COVID-19 is spread through aerosol, and proper personal protective equipment (PPE) like a well-fitted mask is important especially amidst rising cases of the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.

“It’s a little bit like if people are smoking. The closer you are to them, the more smoke in your face, but if you stay for a prolonged period of time in the same room, even if you are two metres apart, you’re going to be breathing that smoke,” Filiatrault said.

She said medical masks, also known as surgical masks, are not enough to protect people from transmission, especially in an indoor space full of people who may not know if they are infected with COVID-19.

Declined administering vaccines

Alex Rosenczweig, a dentist in the Lower Mainland, said he received an email about a week ago from Vancouver Coastal Health urgently asking for certified health-care workers to help administer COVID-19 immunizations at mass vaccination clinics.

He said despite rising COVID-19 cases, he decided not to participate when he found out he would not be provided with proper masks to protect him against the Omicron variant.

“I said I have one request that I’m allowed to wear PPE that includes nothing short of N95 or better, and I even asked if I could wear my own,” Rosenczweig told CBC News.

He said he received a reply saying PPEs will be provided and all immunizers are required to wear the same one issued, and that Infection Prevention and Control Canada “have deemed medical masks adequate for clinics.”

“You’re in an environment with an airborne pathogen, yet the province is sticking to this droplet theory,” Rosenczweig said. “And now with this Omicron variant, we should be able to protect ourselves better, especially [by] wearing an N95.”

The Ministry of Health said in an email statement that infection control measures at vaccination sites are decided and overseen by public health and infection control experts, and the ministry has full provincial infection prevention and control policies in place to prevent COVID-19 transmission in all health-care settings.

“PPE is only one measure health authorities use to prevent transmission,” it stated. “Vaccination clinics are low-risk settings as all staff are vaccinated, masked and there are spacing measures in place.”

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