Make booster doses for N.L. health-care workers a priority, says nurses' union
The head of Newfoundland and Labrador's largest nurses' union says the provincial government needs to prioritize COVID-19 vaccine booster doses for front-line workers in the health-care system.
Yvette Coffey, president of the Registered Nurses' Union Newfoundland and Labrador, said Tuesday that health-care workers under the age of 30 are scrambling to get booster shots, often having to race with the public to get available appointments.
Appointments for booster shots have been hard to come by amid a dramatic rise in COVID-19 cases, and appointments are often booked up seconds after they arrive on Newfoundland and Labrador's vaccination booking portal. People aged 18-29 also face an added challenge in finding appointments, as they are recommended to receive a dose of the PfizerNBiotech vaccine — something only carried at vaccination clinics, and not at pharmacies.
"At this point in time, there is no plan that I'm aware of to get this group vaccinated other than they have to get in line and compete for appointments with the public," Coffey said.
Another layer of stress is the number of health-care workers in isolation, said Coffey. More than 600 workers were in isolation across the province as of Monday, more than half of them in Eastern Health, according to David Diamond, CEO of the regional health authority.
For nurses and other health-care workers already working beyond their capabilities — many of them pulled from other areas of practice to help in the COVID-19 response — a booster shot would add a much needed layer of protection, said Coffey.
"Our members are physically and mentally exhausted — they have been for quite some time. This is adding extra stress," she said.
"We still have many of our members who have not received their boosters. It's a resource issue, we acknowledge that and the resources are us … but we just don't have enough people. It's all hands on deck right now, and that's at all levels."
Jerry Earle, president of the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Public and Private Employees, said he's heard similar concerns among his members.
He's asking the public for patience as health-care staff are redeployed for the pandemic response, putting non-urgent procedures across the province on hold.
"We can only get shots in arms as we make people available to deliver those vaccines. This is a skill set that's necessary people have to understand, it's not as simple as just giving the jab.… People are stepping up," he said.
Earle said the union continues to work with government to make sure as many booster doses as possible are administered, including to health-care workers and other groups that work with vulnerable populations.
"I know a lot of groups are lobbying to be first, but again we have to look at the resources that we have.… Health care is certainly one where people are on the front line," he said.
The union's concerns were outlined in a letter to government last month, Coffey said, but she says everyone has a role to play in keeping the health-care system from being affected further.
"We need your help," Coffey said.
"We need you to follow public health guidelines, we need you to stay within your bubble of 10. This is our health-care system, not just the health-care workers'.… We need you to do your part as well in order to protect our health-care system."