Nfld. & Labrador

N.L. dentists aren't vaccinated yet, and they aren't happy about it

Dentists in Newfoundland and Labrador say they've been making their case to the provincial government to be prioritized for immunization, but haven't made any headway.

Dentists grouped into Phase 2 of vaccination plan

Despite working daily with unmasked patients, dentists in the province were not included in Phase 1 of the vaccination rollout. (Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

Dentists in Newfoundland and Labrador are unvaccinated and unhappy about it, saying they've been making their case to the provincial government to be prioritized for immunization, but haven't made any headway.

Every day, dentists work inside people's mouths, as aerosols spew into the air around them, and have been doing so throughout much of the pandemic. That high risk should translate into Phase 1 inclusion — the highest priority group in the province's vaccination plan — but hasn't been the case so far, says dentist Michelle Zwicker.

"We've been saying from the very beginning that dentists should have been prioritized in that first group of front-line workers. So, we're frustrated and we're feeling a little bit disrespected at this point," said Zwicker, also the president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Dental Association.

"We've had so many conversations with government about our risk level, and we thought we were getting through, but obviously we have not been."

That risk level is unavoidable, she said, as virtual dental treatment isn't possible. Patients must be unmasked for procedures, and emergencies constantly crop up in their offices.

"If somebody has trauma, or infection, or just unmanageable pain, they have to come in and see the dentist. And that is an everyday occurrence, in every dental office in Newfoundland and Labrador," Zwicker told CBC Radio's St. John's Morning Show on Thursday.

Dentists have kept patients out of emergency rooms by performing some of these emergency procedures, she said.

Dentists will be vaccinated in Phase 2, slated to begin in two to three weeks, says the Department of Health. (Patrick Butler/Radio-Canada)

Waiting for Phase 2

At the moment, along with other private health-care providers, dentists are grouped into Phase 2 of the vaccination plan.

In an emailed statement to CBC, the Department of Health said dentists "will be offered vaccine as part of the health-care worker cohort as vaccine supply allows. This is anticipated to occur over the next two to three weeks."

Zwicker said her members have no sense of when in Phase 2 dentists will be vaccinated, despite "fairly constant conversations" with the province, on almost a daily level, she said.

Dentists' offices and all those open mouths have always been potential sources of infection, even pre-pandemic, and Zwicker said dentists have always maintained high levels of sanitation as a result. That's been ramped up during the pandemic to keep people safe, with extra layers of personal protective equipment and COVID-19 screening for patients.

But even with those measures, being unvaccinated has worn on the dentists, as has the wait.

"That vaccine would just provide that added layer of protection, for ourselves and the public, and our staffs and our family," she said.

More than 100,000 people in the province have received at least their first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, a milestone announced April 9.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from The St. John's Morning Show

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