Front-line medical workers call for vaccine prioritization as many remain with one dose
TORONTO -- Emergency room doctors and nurses in Canada are growing increasingly frustrated that many of them have yet to receive a second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Amanda Dodge McLean, a registered nurse in Sarnia, Ont., received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on Feb. 26 and was scheduled to receive the second dose on March 27, but the appointment was cancelled.
To date, she has not been rescheduled.
“It's frustrating because you know you could be better protected for myself, my family, my 16-month-old son, my autoimmune-disordered husband, my parents who are my childcare, who are in their 60s,and for all my patients,” she told CTV News. “It doesn't feel right.”
On March 3, the National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommended extending the interval between doses from three or four weeks -- depending on the vaccine – to 16 weeks so more people could receive a first dose and spread the protection as much as possible.
Dodge McLean is now into week 11 of 16, and not having access to the second dose is weighing on her.
“While you’re working, I don't think it's first and foremost, our patients come first, but absolutely it's on your mind, it adds to the heaviness, everything feels a little more heavy,” she said.
“It compounds … especially if you've had a case where we resuscitate somebody and you find out later, they're COVID positive or they unfortunately passed away and they had COVID.”
Dodge McLean said patients she’s cared for are often shocked to hear that she is not fully vaccinated yet.
“I think patients also want to know that the health-care provider that's providing them care at close contact … are fully vaccinated and protected, such that they can keep their patients protected,” she said.
Dodge McLean isn’t the only front-line worker who feels left behind in the vaccine rollout.
On Thursday, the Registered Nurses' Association of Ontario (RNAO), Canadian Union of Public Employees, Service Employees International Union and the Ontario Nurses Association called for health-care groups to receive second dose prioritization.
“You are exposed during a 12-hour shift ... to very ill patients that are COVID positive in emergency departments, in critical care units, in ICUs,” RNAO CEO Doris Grinspun told The Canadian Press. “One shot is not enough.”
Dr. Alan Drummond, an emergency room doctor in Perth, Ont. and co-chair of public affairs for the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, said there is a growing unease among ER doctors in Canada.
“We all thought that once the vaccination process was established and running that we would be one of the first groups to be immunized and given a priority,” he said.
“It was to our great surprise and actually dismay -- for a lot of people -- that we weren't being prioritized at all. It was like adding insult to injury and certainly moral injury to all of us on the front lines.”
On Thursday, Ontario reported that 1,964 people are currently hospitalized due to COVID-19, 877 of whom are in intensive care. Six hundred require ventilators.
It’s believed that if Ontario reaches more than 900 COVID-19 patients in the ICU, it may have to enact triage protocols, meaning doctors may have to choose who gets the best care and who doesn’t.
Ontario’s precarious COVID-19 situation is all the more reason to have front-line personnel fully vaccinated, Drummond said.
“If a staff member gets sick, or ends up being quarantined, that can escalate the process of deterioration of the emergency health-care system,” he said.
“We deserve priority vaccination, not for personal protection, but in order to maintain the integrity of our emergency health-care system acrossthe country and that's the way that this should be viewed.”
Drummond said his organization has put out several calls to provincial health authorities to ask for second-dose prioritization, but those calls have been “falling on deaf ears.”
“We actually are hearing that there has been -- yet again -- this sort of subliminal messaging that emergency physicians and nurses are an afterthought,” he said.
“All we can do is accept the reality that we're midway through a third wave -- hopefully not a fourth wave – with, again, one hand tied behind our backs clinically.”
According to CTVNews.ca’s vaccine tracker, nearly 1.2 million Canadians had received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccineas of Thursday evening, while 384,589 Ontarians have received a second dose, though it’s unclear how many of them are health-care workers.
A report from Ontario Public Health found that just 0.06 per cent of the nearly 3.5 million people from Ontario who received at least one vaccine shot by April 17 caught an infection while fully or partially vaccinated.
With files from The Canadian Press