written with notes from Roger Varley
Touching on subjects such as blood clots, breastfeeding and mask-wearing, Uxbridge doctors and pharmacists answered residents' questions about COVID-19 for 90 minutes on Monday evening.
The virtual gathering, held via Microsoft Teams using the township's software, saw as many as 95 people taking part at its peak. Responding to questions were Dr. Carlye Jensen of Uxbridge Health Centre, Dr. Vara Mahadevan of the Toronto Street Clinic, Dr. Patricia Wong and Dr. S. Chau of Markham Stouffville Hospital, and pharmacists Sameer Remtulla of Pharmasave and Eni Rambi of Walmart.
The over-riding message offered by the professionals during the session was that everyone should have the vaccine as soon as possible and that all the vaccines are safe. Jensen said that all the vaccines available work well despite their differences. Noting concern about reports of blood clots experienced by some receiving vaccinations, particularly AstraZeneca, she said a very small percentage of vaccinated people get blood clots and AstraZeneca is "fine" for older people.
This vaccine is also reported to have a lower efficacy than the earlier approved Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, but the doctors pointed out that the trials for the AstraZeneca vaccine were done in a world that was already experiencing variant cases. Pfizer and Moderna trials were done prior to the appearance of variants, which means there are no data on their efficacy against these variants from the initial trials.
On whether to receive a vaccine or not, Dr. Vara used the analogy of wearing a seatbelt.
“You have to wear a seatbelt while you drive, can you now speed because you’re wearing that seatbelt, or drive on the other side of the road or text and drive? This vaccine is like your seatbelt.”
Jensen did note that Canada is behind other nations when it comes to administering vaccinations, but offered that it enables Canada to learn from other countries' results and experiences. On a question about new mothers taking the vaccine, she said breastfeeding is "the best way to pass on immunities to your baby."
When addressing the discussion of which vaccine to receive, Dr. Vara used another analogy, likening the situation to being in a shipwreck.
"If you are on a sinking boat and someone throws you a life jacket, grab it: don't look at the brand," he said.
Rambi added that the best vaccine is the first one available.
Remtulla recommended that Uxbridge residents add themselves to all the local pharmacy wait lists and to take whichever appointment is offered first. “This really isn’t a competition,'' he said. “We really want people just to get vaccinated, so we’re encouraging people to get on everyone’s waitlist.”
On the question of mask-wearing after receiving the vaccine, Wong said receiving the vaccine does not guarantee a person won't become a carrier of COVID-19, so a mask helps prevent the spread. Jensen said vaccines and masking are "the prudent way to go. When you wear a mask, you're not really protecting yourself, you're protecting those around you."
Not one of the doctors could think of any medical condition that would prevent a person wearing a mask. Jensen said the most common reasons for not wearing a mask would be anxiety, dementia or extreme claustrophobia, but no one on the panel could recall seeing such a case. She said as much as people "hate" the public health measures that have been in effect for so long, such as mask-wearing, sanitizing and distancing, they are working.
Drs. Jensen, Wong and Chau all confirmed that hospitals are being inundated as a result of the pandemic, another reason why people should receive the vaccine. Jensen said people with other diseases or who have been in accidents are being put at risk of delayed treatment. Wong said some hospital corridors are being stacked with patients.
“As a healthcare provider, when we get to the point where we’re stacking people in hallways and in Emerg, and holding them for days at a time, where we can’t give them the care we know they need, it is absolutely devastating and soul destroying,” explained Jensen.
Visibly emotional, Jensen touched on the stressful circumstances that she has witnessed while working at the Uxbridge Cottage Hospital. She said that the in-patient ward is currently over capacity, resulting in patients being kept in the emergency department while they await space upstairs in the ward. She continued by noting that many hospitals are so full with COVID patients that there is little to no room for any other medical emergencies.
“Our beds are supposed to be 18,” said Wong. “We surge when we’re busy to 20, and right now we have 25 patients.”
If a patient goes to the emergency department, there is no space nor the resources to properly care for them.
Justyne Edgell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Uxbridge Cosmos