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False positives at care home amid concerns over vaccination rates

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David Burt, the Premier (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Several vaccinated seniors at a residential home tested positive for Covid-19 and then retested as negative, The Royal Gazette can reveal.

The elderly residents had no symptoms and were isolated from others until the results of the retests were known.

The positive results came back after in-house coronavirus saliva testing that takes place regularly for all staff and seniors at the facility.

When the Department of Health followed up by taking nasal swabs, the same seniors who had tested positive received negative results.

A source said the results from the saliva tests were believed to be false positives and the seniors had now been taken out of isolation.

The news comes amid concern about low numbers of nursing and care home staff – as well as hospital workers – agreeing to be vaccinated.

There are also fears about many senior residential home residents not being vaccinated and so being vulnerable to the virus.

As of April 10, only 53 per cent of residents in rest homes and long-term care facilities had received the vaccination, according to the Ministry of Health.

Less than half – 49 per cent – of residents in rest homes and long-term care facilities were fully immunised after having two shots.

The total number of residents to have received at least one dose was 394, with 363 of those having also received a second shot.

Long-term care residences include rest homes and all long-term care residents at Bermuda Hospitals Board.

David Burt, the Premier, said last month: “There are lots [of residents] that haven’t been vaccinated and I really fear what will happen if there are outbreaks in rest homes.”

At the home in question, which The Royal Gazette is not identifying, it is understand that about 70 per cent of staff have not been vaccinated.

The source said neither the Government nor the home could compel staff to get vaccinated and many employees feared there could be serious side-effects.

“I have heard that some of them think it is going to make you sterile,” said the source.

“I wish I knew what was going on in their heads. I know that the Department of Health and our senior management have tried so hard to make people understand how important it is for them to get vaccinated.”

Stricter visiting rules were imposed on rest homes on March 22, meaning that until this week’s shelter-in-place, residents were allowed to appoint just two “essential” visitors, who could visit one at a time and stay for 30 minutes only.

But the home which received the positive saliva test results was operating under stricter rules of its own, in place since October, banning indoor visitors altogether to prevent the spread of the virus.

The source said: “No one has been in there since October. We are taking more precautions because we have more vulnerable people.”

The Ministry of Health would not comment on whether any vaccinated residential home residents had recently tested positive for Covid-19.

It also would not provide up-to-date figures for the number of vaccinated nursing and care home staff.

The Royal Gazette has now asked the ministry for the statistics in a public access to information request.

A ministry spokeswoman said yesterday: “It's not the Department of Health's policy to publicly discuss the personal matters of any member of staff or individuals of any care facility.

“The Ministry … has a rigorous and regular testing regime in place for its health professionals.

“Any positive cases are handled in accordance with the recommended guidelines in place which includes isolating/quarantine and contact tracing.”

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health, added: “I can assure the community that we work diligently to ensure that all of the appropriate health protocols and recommendations are being followed in accordance with our guidance in the Department of Health.

“We are committed to taking all of the necessary actions and precautions to ensure that our health staff and any associated individuals are safeguarded and protected."

Kim Wilson, the Minister of Health (File photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Mr Burt said last month that some seniors in rest homes had yet to be vaccinated because their children refused to give consent.

He said: “No one can force it – it is not for us to force – but it is very concerning for our most vulnerable population [that] there are children who will not consent for their parents to be vaccinated.

“In a setting like that if there is one seeding of a contagious virus it can have an impact, an outbreak.

“The truth is we don’t have all of our seniors in rest homes vaccinated and the way this new strain is spreading it is likely that, just as there are cases in the prison, there will be cases in rest homes.”

The Ministry of Health, along with medical experts all over the world, have repeatedly stressed the safety of the Covid-19 vaccine.

Vaccination levels among BHB staff

Less than half of Bermuda Hospitals Board’s staff have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

The board revealed yesterday that 882 employees had received both shots, representing “nearly half” of its workforce.

A spokeswoman told The Royal Gazette that 74 per cent of the doctors it employs have been vaccinated and 50 per cent of the nurses.

She said: “The nearly 900 vaccinated individuals includes all staff across all areas and on-site workers, such as security and Black & McDonald, who maintain the Acute Care Wing.

“We continue to urge all our staff to get vaccinated and are encouraged that numbers are continuing to rise."

Wesley Miller, Chief of Staff at Bermuda Hospitals Board (Photograph supplied)

Bermuda Hospitals Board chief of staff Dr Wesley Miller told a press conference at the weekend that King Edward VII Memorial Hospital had experienced some positive Covid-19 tests among staff.

He said: “Our challenge is in terms of staffing. In a pandemic like this, some of our staff get ill and they have to go off.

“Some of them did not take the vaccine and it meant that those who didn’t, we can’t bring them back quickly if they test positive, so they will be off for a minimum of 14 days.

“Overall for the hospital, a small number of staff have been sent off. Most of them have been by virtue of having contact rather than them being positive, so we have them off on quarantine.”

The figures from BHB may not be unusual. A recent survey conducted by the Washington Post found that only 52 per cent of frontline healthcare workers said they had received at least their first vaccine dose at the time they were surveyed.

More than one in three said they were not confident vaccines were sufficiently tested for safety and effectiveness.

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Published April 16, 2021 at 8:55 am (Updated April 16, 2021 at 8:55 am)

False positives at care home amid concerns over vaccination rates

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