In Question Period, I asked the Minister of Health if his ministry was collecting data about long-term COVID illness experienced by British Columbians, and if so, where this information can be accessed by the public.
In New York, for example, about 10% of COVID-19 patients end up developing chronic symptoms — most long-haul patients are women, relatively young, and many only experienced mild illness when first infected. Now, months later, some are still so sick they can’t work. Data collection is critical here, and the NDP government must be transparent with the public.
S. Furstenau: I want to start by saying I absolutely support taking every effort to minimize the fatalities associated with COVID-19 and the evidence-based response to prioritize the vaccination of elders. I also think there’s room in the discussion, especially with the recent approval of the AstraZeneca vaccine, to consider not only years of life lost, but years of life limited by the long-term health impacts experienced by some COVID-19 patients.
As the head of the Center for Post-COVID Care in New York has estimated, at least 10 percent of COVID-19 patients end up developing chronic symptoms. Most long-haul patients are women, relatively young, and many only experience mild illness when first infected. Added to that, recent data from the U.K. suggests that roughly 15 percent of kids under the age of 16 have at least one lingering symptom five weeks after their initial diagnosis.
My question is to the Minister of Health, and the answer can be short and hopefully sweet. Is his ministry collecting data about long-term COVID illness experienced by British Columbians, and if so, where is the information being posted for the public?
Hon. A. Dix: The member will know — and I appreciate her question — that this subject, the issue of the impact of COVID-19 as a long-term impact, is at the centre of our responses. We have many centres of excellence that are supporting people who are addressing COVID-19. The point she makes is an important one, in terms of both immunization and in terms of the future of the pandemic. That this pandemic has had a profound impact on people’s lives — those who’ve lost their lives, those who got sick and those who continue to deal with that.
Those issues and how we deal with those issues is something that has been repeatedly reported on and answered to by Dr. Bonnie Henry in our public briefings. We’d be very happy to set up a briefing about those, with the hon. member, so she can get a sense of the actions we’re taking in support of people who are dealing with the long-term effects of a pandemic and of a virus that can have deep impacts on people of all ages.
S. Furstenau: I do look forward to a briefing, and I will ask in the briefing again about the collection of data around people who are experiencing these long-term symptoms and where that data is publicly available. As reported in the New York Times, COVID long-haul patients report a stunning array of mysterious symptoms: fatigue, pain, insomnia, memory problems, brain fog.
This should, as the minister points out, raise important questions for how we organize our COVID policies in B.C., which professions are prioritized for vaccination and the level of risk we are expecting front-line workers to take. Younger people may be less likely to die, but the long-term impacts from this virus are not always trivial.
For health care workers and teachers, who have the highest number of WorkSafeBC COVID claims, respectively, as well as the 12,000-plus recorded cases for children and teenagers, this is particularly worrying.
My question again is to the Minister of Health. How is the minister accounting for long COVID in decision-making, and how is he preparing to support long-haul patients, both medically and in the event that they are unable to work or go to school, while navigating a long and uncertain recovery.
Hon. A. Dix: Well, the member will know that we have established three specialty clinics in British Columbia to address the needs of people who are dealing with ongoing effects of a COVID-19 infection. That effort, which is a significant effort in our health care system, is something that’s been ongoing for some time. I’d be happy to brief the member on it.
The member talks about immunization clinics and the decisions that will be made. We’ve made it very clear, from the beginning, from December in our briefing, then January in our briefing and then this week in our presentation about immunization plans. The focus of our effort is to deal with those who are most vulnerable. So long-term care was first. Then assisted living. Rural and remote Indigenous communities had high priority and health care workers who serve those, who are most vulnerable, have been very substantially immunized. That reporting we’ve done consistently.
Our plan for the coming months as laid out on Monday, and again, focuses on an age-based approach, but also includes high priority, and the health care workers who serve those who are most vulnerable have been very substantially immunized. That reporting we’ve done consistently.
Our plan, for the coming months, was laid out on Monday. It again focuses on an age-based approach but also includes those with specific needs who are not in the age-based, including those, for example, with developmental disabilities.
With respect to the AstraZeneca vaccine and, potentially, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine, we are doing modelling based on the evidence. These are how…. Reports and recommendations are made by the BCCDC and Dr. Henry based on the evidence of what would have the most positive effect both on the outcomes for people and on the outcome of the pandemic in British Columbia.
That ongoing review will guide us as we use, potentially, other vaccines. It could be AstraZeneca or Johnson and Johnson or others. These are considerations.
Everything we do is based on the evidence. Every person who is immunized is followed on their immunization path. Every person who tests positive for COVID-19 gets support and is involved in contact tracing and follow-up support. That effort will continue based on the evidence in B.C. and led by our extraordinary team of public health professionals.