Health Department struggled to collect COVID-19 vaccine data from high-risk groups: BC Auditor General

The Office of the Auditor General released its assessment of the Department of Health's ability to oversee COVID-19 vaccinations.  (Ben Nelms/CBC - photo credit)

The Office of the Auditor General released its assessment of the Department of Health’s ability to oversee COVID-19 vaccinations. (Ben Nelms/CBC – photo credit)

More than 14 million doses of COVID-19 shots have been distributed in British Columbia, but a recent report shows there were gaps in the Department of Health’s collection of some of this data.

On Thursday, BC’s Office of the Auditor General released its assessment of how the department is monitoring COVID-19 vaccination rates. The report looked at immunization coverage for the entire province and focused on two high-risk groups: residents and staff of long-term care (LTC) and assisted living (AL) facilities, and medical workers.

It concluded that while the Department has been able to consistently monitor vaccination rates for the general public, it has struggled to track uptake in the high-risk populations.

According to the report, there is no centralized registry for people living and working in BC’s approximately 500 long-term care and assisted living facilities, and this likely rendered the data collected inaccurate.

In the absence of a central database, the province monitored immunization rates for LTC and assisted living facilities using overall immunization rates entered into the Provincial Immunization Registry (PIR) and population estimates for these facilities in each health agency.

According to the report, the ministry has set up systems for facilities to report on the vaccination rates of residents and staff.

The Auditor General’s office said private assisted living facilities did not, however, report through a ministry or a Provincial Health Services Authority (PHSA) system and the “regular rotation” of residents at both public and private facilities made accurate tracking difficult .

Ben Nelms/CBC

Ben Nelms/CBC

“In the absence of a provincial database, the ministry and PHSA staff have had trouble confirming the number of residents and staff at LTC and AL facilities,” the report said.

BC Auditor General Michael Pickup said in a news conference that the department has been efficient in sharing information with decision-makers, despite challenges in collecting data related to healthcare workers and nursing home staff and residents.

“Vaccination coverage information helped guide vaccine rollout and inform public health actions… Our audit confirmed that the Department did indeed have the information it needed to monitor COVID vaccination rates, with some exceptions for high-risk groups,” he said.

“There is no centralized register for [long-term care and assisted living facilities.] As a result, data collection had to be done manually in some cases, meaning data collection for these groups may have been inaccurate.”

2 recommendations made

The first recommendation from the Office of the Auditor General is that the Department of Health should in future have access to an up-to-date register of residents and employees of both public and private entities.

When vaccine rollouts began in December 2021, high-risk health workers were prioritized for vaccination. Using the PIR, the Department of Health was able to track these vaccination rates using information from regional health authorities to estimate this population.

Priority was initially given to workers in intensive care units, emergency rooms, surgical and medical units, and paramedics.

Where the Auditor General found gaps was from February to October 2021, when more healthcare workers were eligible to get vaccinated and the province did not adjust its population estimates to account for the newly eligible.

The report’s second and final recommendation is that the Department have access to an up-to-date register of healthcare workers working in health agencies to meet future public health needs.

The ministry has accepted both of the report’s recommendations and said it would start consultations with health authorities and operators of older facilities this year.

You can read the full report of the Federal Audit Office here.


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