'How little the province cares:' ER doctor calls for sooner access to second shots

An Ontario emergency-room physician is calling on the province to offer second-dose protection to front-line health-care workers sooner rather than later as cases of the highly-contagious COVID-19 variants climb.

“Is that enough, to say one dose is good enough?” Dr. Laura Shoots told CTV News Toronto. “I think it just highlights how little the province cares about our healthcare workers and their safety.”

Shoots highlights the case of a colleague, a fellow emergency room doctor who caught the virus from a patient three weeks after he received his first dose of the vaccine. Although the first dose of the vaccine has been demonstrated to offer significant protection, there is still some risk of contracting COVID-19.

Under guidelines recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization and adopted by the province, second doses are being delayed by up to four months for most populations in order to maximize the number of people benefiting from a first dose amid a vaccine shortage.

But Shoots argues that healthare workers at high-risk of contracting the virus in the workplace should be fully vaccinated in order to protect both them—and their patients.

“We’ve put in so many layers of safety for our patients, but to have the province do this, it’s leading to a lot of people feeling really burnt out and frustrated.”

According to the province, only 22 per cent of Ontario health-care workers had been fully vaccinated with both doses, excluding long-term care and retirement home workers, as of Mar. 29.

“We know that he new variants are more contagious,” Dr. Samantha Hill, Ontario Medical Association president, said Thursday. “I would not be surprised if we see that being reflected as well in our health care worker population, with more of them being ill if they’ve not been immunized.”

Dr. Atul Kapur of the Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians pointed out that the strategy of offering first-doses to more people stands to benefit emergency-room doctors by reducing their exposure through patients.

“Looking at the overall population health, which is what is the biggest driver of the risk to heath care workers, I think bringing the overall population that’s vaccinated up is what’s going to help us get out of this situation fast,” Kapur said.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott, meanwhile, said that the dosing interval could be reduced if incoming supply levels allow.

“We expect that with the supply of vaccines that we will be receiving in the next short while, that it won’t be a 4-month period but it will be shorter than that,” Elliott said.