Calgary

Stress, confusion plague vaccination process for Calgary medical resident

A Calgary medical resident says she felt compelled to rearrange her schedule to avoid working with medically fragile children and to protect herself from potential exposure in the hospital because she is not considered eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Stephanie Hammond, a pediatric neurology resident, says she's not yet eligible for her shots

Pediatric neurology resident, Dr. Stephanie Hammond, has not yet received her COVID-19 vaccine. (Stephanie Hammond)

A Calgary medical resident says she felt compelled to rearrange her schedule to avoid working with medically fragile children and to protect herself from potential exposure in the hospital because she is not considered eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Dr. Stephanie Hammond, a third year pediatric neurology resident at Alberta Children's Hospital, says she's not up for the shots yet even though many of her colleagues have either been vaccinated or are considered eligible. 

"I've had a dream — a nightmare — about being in a situation where I gave COVID to a patient and it's an awful feeling," said Hammond.

"It's awful to know...that I could be doing more to protect my patients and — in fairness — to protect myself. But that despite that option being available to my colleagues that it's not available to me."

Hammond was scheduled to work rotations that required her to spend time in pediatric and neonatal intensive care units in April, a prospect that she says caused her "moral distress."

"There [was] a risk of working with COVID positive patients and there's also a great likelihood of working with patients that are very fragile, including premature babies."

Hammond — who has a terminally ill family member — has been asking about the vaccine for weeks and says she's been told she's ineligible at this time because those rotations are not in areas deemed a priority for the COVID-19 vaccine.

She was so concerned she swapped rotations with a colleague — who has been vaccinated — and won't be working on those units now until June. But she worries there may be others who aren't able to rearrange their schedules.

"It's not appropriate to put some residents in a situation that they have to work in a situation that they feel is unsafe," she said.

Hammond says she has swapped rotations with a colleague to avoid working in the neonatal and pediatric intensive care units for the next few months (Alberta Children's Hospital)

Most Alberta medical residents already vaccinated or eligible

The head of the organization representing Alberta's medical residents says while there have been some bumps with the vaccine prioritization, it has gone reasonably well.

"From what we know, we have the vast majority of residents that have been either vaccinated or on the list to be vaccinated up until Phase 2A," said Dr. Franco Rizzuti, president of the Professional Association of Resident Physicians of Alberta (PARA).

"And we've been told the remaining residents — most of which are either prioritized as working in the community or in units that haven't been identified yet — will be vaccinated in Phase 2C."

According to Rizutti, while critical care was prioritized early on, eligibility for some specialties — including pediatrics — hasn't been as clear cut.

"[They] are a little bit more blurred in how they've been prioritized. But my understanding is if they meet the criteria of doing critical care — so pediatric ICU, neonatal ICU — these should be eligible."

Rizutti says PARA — which does not manage the eligibility list  — is advocating for residents who feel they've been overlooked and has successfully done so for several medical residents.

He says he understand the vaccine rollout has been anxiety provoking.

"I'm very sensitive and empathetic to the amount of stress this has caused for health-care workers, for those who just don't know where they're at in the priority list, or where things have maybe moved as the prioritization list has been rolled out.," said Rizutti.

"But I think it's hard to compare to anything else. This is the first time we've had a vaccine campaign like this."

Vaccinations coming in April

According to Alberta Health Services, some, but not all, pediatric residents are currently eligible for the vaccine. It says medical residents who work full-time in prioritized areas, including pediatric intensive care, neonatal intensive care and pediatric ER, were included early in the rollout.

"For Phase 1, because of the limited supply of vaccine, teams that are core to maintain the capacity required to provide the COVID-19 acute inpatient care and critical care response were sequenced in Phase 1A," an AHS spokesperson said in a statement emailed to CBC News.

AHS says Phase 1 was also focused on preventing deaths in highest risk populations including long-term care residents and the elderly.

"We understand there are many people anxiously waiting to receive the vaccine, and recognize many staff and health-care partners work with higher-risk patients who are vulnerable to COVID-19, and with COVID-19-positive cases. We greatly appreciate the vital work they do."

Yesterday, Alberta Health released new information about Phase 2C of the vaccine rollout, which will now include all healthcare workers in hospitals.

According to AHS that means all medical residents will be eligible for their shots when that stage begins in April

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jennifer Lee

Reporter

Jennifer Lee is a CBC News reporter based in Calgary. She worked at CBC Toronto, Saskatoon and Regina, before landing in Calgary in 2002. If you have a health or human interest story to share, let her know. Jennifer.Lee@cbc.ca

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