As It Happens

Ontario doctor frustrated by province's vaccine slowdown over holidays

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is one of several doctors who have taken to Twitter to voice their frustration by Ontario's vaccination distribution slowdown over the Christmas holidays.

'We want this vaccination to roll out as quickly as possible', says Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth

Care home workers get the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine at a clinic in St. Michael’s Hospital. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

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A family physician in Ottawa is frustrated by Ontario's decision to slow vaccine distribution over the holidays.

"The official word is that hospitals can only operate on skeleton staffs during the holidays. And yet even our colleagues who work in the hospitals — our emergency room colleagues — haven't been asked to work," said Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth.

"We want this vaccination to roll out as quickly as possible so that everybody is safer," Dr. Kaplan-Myrth added.

Dr. Kaplan-Myrth is one of several doctors across the province who have taken to Twitter to criticize the Ontario government for closing many vaccination clinics as of Friday.

Alexandra Hilkene, spokesperson for the Minister of Health, said in an emailed response to CBC News that as of 4pm on December 28, the province had administered over 13,200 vaccines. 
"Over the holidays hospital sites administering the vaccines requested to operate on slightly amended schedules, recognizing the challenges that the holidays can have on staffing levels in hospitals and long-term care homes."

On Sunday, another spokesperson for the provincial government said only five hospitals would operate vaccine distribution clinics Sunday, approximately 10 would operate clinics Monday, and all will be back in operation on Tuesday.

 

However, Dr. Kaplan says the slow down did not need to happen if the province simply asked doctors to work.

"It doesn't make any sense. Why would we delay something that would be preventing future deaths?"

Here is part of her conversation with As It Happens guest host Helen Mann. 

Dr. Kaplan-Myrth, when you saw the news of this Christmas vaccination slowdown, why did you offer to help?

Back in March, when the pandemic began, family doctors and other doctors in the community, we were all preparing our wills because we were told that we might be deployed to work in ICUs intubating people as opposed to working as family doctors or pediatricians or gynaecologists. And we've been ready to help the entire pandemic and have yet to be actually called upon.

And so I saw my colleagues writing and saying... the official word is that hospitals can only operate on skeleton staffs during the holidays. And and yet even our colleagues who work in the hospitals, our emergency room colleagues, haven't been asked to work.

We would all be more than willing to work. And we're anxious. We're lying in bed at night worrying about our patients and worrying about our colleagues and worrying about our communities. And we want this vaccination to roll out as quickly as possible so that everybody is safer. 

... The spokesperson for Premier Ford responding to this controversy said, and I'm quoting, "It was hospital sites administering the vaccines that asked for the slightly amended schedule, recognising challenges with holiday staffing and the need to care for patients. Personally, I'm happy to listen to frontline partners." What do you say to that? 

Well, I would say that the frontline partners aren't invited to the table, and I feel like we're actually on mute... We're not we're not being heard ... All the doctors, even in the hospitals, as I said, are more than willing to work.

What I hear from my own public health unit is that there is no problem. This is all going according to plan. But that's also what we heard, you know, throughout the pandemic. And and like, we're kind of saying the emperor has no clothes.

You can't just keep saying, "No, no, no, we've meant for this to happen."

It doesn't make any sense. Why would we delay something that would be preventing future deaths?

... As every day goes by then the target of trying to immunise the population for, you know, autumn of 2021 becomes ludicrous. Like, it's just simply impossible.

We have the vaccine. It's just sitting there. Why would it just sit there? It doesn't make any sense.- Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth

... We are hearing that other jurisdictions are getting these shots out more quickly. And in fact, I'm seeing numbers that suggest Newfoundland and Labrador has gotten out five times as many vaccines as in Ontario. Who do you hold responsible for that?

Well, I think we have to hold our leadership in Ontario responsible for that ... Why in other countries are they doing this 24/7? And we're saying, no, we need we need a break for Christmas.

... That doesn't compute for any of us who are actually, you know, the so-called health care workers who are out there saying we will work.

Explain for us the difference that a few days makes when it comes to administering these vaccines.

Well, every day that you don't immunise, those... targets for when we're going to have enough of our population immunised to have some form of herd immunity keeps getting pushed further along ... All those people who need the vaccine then need their second vaccine. It takes time.

So does it matter a day or two? I mean, how many people are going to get sick and die in each day and how much does that matter? To me, it matters every single time ... It means that there are an exponential number of contacts or an exponential number of people who are now going to end up sick and people who are going to die. And I don't want to be called in to intubate anybody. I'm a family doctor, but I will do it if I have to.

But for me, the irony is that the government asked us to sign up on these lists to say that will be available, will be deployable, and then they don't use us for the skills that we have and they don't use the rest of my colleagues for the skills that we have.

And we have the vaccine. It's just sitting there. Why would it just sit there? It doesn't make any sense.


Written by Lito Howse with files from CBC News. Produced by Kevin Robertson. Q&A edited for length and clarity.

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