Doctor, nurse groups say province should prioritize health-care workers for vaccines

·3 min read
Doctors need to be put back on the priority list for vaccinations, says the Saskatchewan Medical Association.
Doctors need to be put back on the priority list for vaccinations, says the Saskatchewan Medical Association.

(Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

The union for Saskatchewan's 10,000 registered nurses has joined the province's 2,600 doctors telling the government to rethink its vaccination plan.

"We're the ones that touch the patients the most. We're the ones that see the patients first. And we're in every health care unit, facility and agency across this province," Saskatchewan Union of Nurses President Tracy Zambory said.

"Working non-stop since March of 2020, the beginning of the pandemic, to find out that we're no longer a priority on the vaccination list is unacceptable."

Some health workers in intensive care units and other high-risk areas have been vaccinated. The government acknowledges 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.

Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA) president Dr. Barb Konstanynowicz said patients could be hesitant to seek medical care if doctors and other health professionals aren't vaccinated quickly.

"A more planned, systematic approach to vaccinations among HCWs (health-care workers) will provide patients with the reassurance that engaging with the health-care system is becoming safer and will lead to a quicker resumption of everyday health services," Konstanynowicz said in a news release issued Thursday afternoon.

Saskatchewan Medical Association
Saskatchewan Medical Association

Konstanynowicz said vaccinating those at highest risk of illness and death is important, but so is protecting health-care system capacity by vaccinating workers. That's been recognized across Canada and internationally, she said.

"Patients can't get the care they need if health-care workers are quarantining. Our health system is strained as it is," she said.

Konstantynowicz noted the province's 2,600 physicians want to know when they'll be vaccinated, but the provincial plan "does not provide it."

She said the SMA wants Health Minister Paul Merriman to remedy this situation.

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.

Moe says officials looking into 'revisions'

Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe says his government and Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab have heard the concerns from health-care workers about the vaccine distribution plan.

He says others have 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 said.

Moe and Shahab both say the small 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.

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