Sask. medical students join doctors, nurses calling for rethink of vaccine rollout plan

Doctors and nurses weren't the only ones surprised this week by the Saskatchewan government's new COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.

Premier Scott Moe says health care professionals' status changed due to vaccine shortages

The Saskatchewan governmnet's new vaccination plan does not place a priority on medical students and other general health workers. Some say that needs to change because of their frequent contact with diverse groups of patients. (Jean-Francois Badias/The Associated Press)

Doctors and nurses weren't the only ones surprised this week by the Saskatchewan government's new COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan.

Medical students — like doctors and nurses — were not prioritized for vaccination. Most med students are younger than 30, meaning they'd be among the last to get the vaccine under the current age-based plan.

Colten Molnar of the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan said the vulnerable and elderly must be protected first, but health-care workers and students should also be high on the list to protect patients.

"All of the medical students should be included in a priority group with the health-care workers, which is what we're seeing in provinces across the country," Molnar said.

"We hope to see more thought put into this decision that kind of seemed to come out of nowhere."

Molnar said his organization isn't sure why Saskatchewan isn't following the national guidelines or the lead of other provinces. He said vaccinating the province's 400 future doctors would help them and their families, but the main reason to do so is to decrease the risk to patients.

"I do think that perhaps we are a bit unique. We are shuffled around a bit more in the hospital. The nature of our learning is of rotations and blocks. When we're done in one area, we have to move into another. There is always that risk of seeing that increased number of patients," he said.

Colten Molnar of the Student Medical Society of Saskatchewan says the government needs to rethink its vaccination plan, which would make medical students some of the last people in the province to get a vaccine. (Supplied by Colten Molnar)

Earlier this week, both the Saskatchewan Medical Association and the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses voiced similar concerns and demanded the province revamp its plan.

Some health workers in intensive care units and other high-risk areas have been vaccinated. The government acknowledged that a plan outlined to doctors a couple of week ago listed other health professionals as the next highest priority, along with the emphasis on the elderly and other vulnerable populations.

That changed this week, with most health-care workers left off the priority list. Most of them will now be given the same priority as the general public.

A Saskatchewan Health Authority official said in an email that the original plan was released "before we learned of further reductions in vaccine supply from the manufacturer" and since had to be revised.

"All of our planning to date is entirely dependent upon vaccine supply," the official said.

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe said his government and chief medical health officer Dr. Saqib Shahab have heard the concerns from health-care workers. 

He said others have also come forward, including police and teachers.

"Our officials are now working on any revisions that may be necessary to potentially include some additional categories of health-care workers in Phase 1," Moe said in a COVID-19 update news conference on Thursday. 

"But in saying that, it isn't going to be all of the groups across the health-care sector, there are going to be a number of folks in the health-care sector that are going to be under the mass vaccination age priority."

Moe and Shahab both said the lower-than-expected federal supply of vaccine is an issue. 

"With the supplies we have, I think the biggest impact is moving down based on age-based criteria and obviously it's not an easy decision. But, you know, where are you getting the most impact out of your vaccine right now with constrained supplies? It really is based on age," Shahab said. 

"As vaccine supplies increase, all these other considerations will have to be looked at very closely."


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