Orillia doctors band together to promote COVID-19 vaccinations

Staff at Orillia Soldiers' Memorial Hospital (OSMH) are exhibiting a united front with frontline health-care workers encouraging the unvaccinated to get their shots in a series of public service announcement videos.

The hospital is closing in on 100 per cent vaccination with its credentialed staff committed to being fully immunized and promoting the vaccine for residents.

"The enemy here is COVID infection," said Dr. Nancy Merrow, OSMH chief of staff and vice president of medical affairs.

"They've seen COVID, and what it does to people and families and how ill you can become, and they want to protect the health-care workforce so that they're there for everyone who needs them and all of their patients, families and children who are potentially vulnerable to this virus."

The Orillia hospital's chief of emergency medicine said he is growing increasingly concerned about the harmful misinformation shared and trusted online.

"We're worried about people that aren't vaccinated. We're also worried that a lot of people are being swayed by social media and maybe misinformation that has a loud voice on our airwaves," said Dr. Aaron Barnett.

Orillia's doctors are dispelling vaccine misinformation and conspiracy theories, including how the vaccine was made, what it contains and how it works in videos produced by the hospital.

"It does not carry any microchips, transmitters or magnets," said the hospital's pathologist Dr. Itrat Ahmed in one of the videos.

"I didn't hesitate, my sister-in-law, who is trying to become pregnant, to get vaccinated, my daughters, who want to be pregnant someday, to get vaccinated," shared Dr. Kate Rheault, an OSMH obstetrician-gynecologist.

According to data from the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit, there are still roughly 24,000 residents ages 18 to 29 in the region, along with another 8,000 eligible kids under 17, unwilling or unable to get a single dose of the vaccine.

Pediatrician Dr. Victoria Dickinson also shared her story of seeking vaccination while breastfeeding her son.

Dickinson encourages vaccine-hesitant families to consider vaccinating eligible children as she hopes to do for her kids once Health Canada approves the shots for children younger than 12.

"I'm going to be the first to sign up my little guys to be vaccinated because I believe that the vaccine is safe and it's the most important thing to do not only for our health but the health of our whole community," she said.

According to the health unit, unvaccinated people are 61 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus than those with both doses.

Barnett described the feeling many unvaccinated infected patients have when seriously ill in hospital with the virus.

"They are very afraid, and then I think reality does sink in. Unfortunately, it's too late for them to be vaccinated, but it's an opportunity to talk to them about their family members and encourage them at least to get vaccinated at that point in time," he said.

The hospital said staff members have less than two weeks to receive at least their first dose before being placed on unpaid leave, followed by the threat of termination weeks later.