January 15th, 2021

Doctors ask for vaccine priority for staff working in COVID-19 units at hospitals


By The Canadian Press on January 7, 2021.

The Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered to a personal support worker at the Ottawa Hospital on Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020 in Ottawa. Doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld

EDMONTON – More than 200 doctors in Alberta have signed an open letter asking for prioritized vaccination of health-care staff who work directly with patients on dedicated COVID-19 units.

The latest statistics from Alberta Health show there are 911 people in hospital, including 141 in intensive care units.

The doctors say in the letter, put out Wednesday, that more than 80 per cent of all patients who are hospitalized with COVID-19 are cared for outside of an intensive care unit.

They say they are treated on COVID-19 wards with staff dedicated to their care.

The doctors, who include primary care physicians, general internists and medical subspecialists, say they have stepped forward to care for patients on the specialized units, which have been operational since last spring.

They say nurses, rehabilitation staff and support staff have been deployed from their regular duties.

“For staff to work on these wards, upon starting their shifts they undertake a rigorous process to first sign in to every common area, complete a fitness-to-work assessment, and apply full personal protective equipment [PPE] consisting of a mask, face shield and gown,” said the letter.

“For the remainder of their shift every single patient encountered has an active COVID-19 infection.”

The doctors say that means the risk of exposure is continuous.

“We can only speak from a physicians’ perspective, but our ability to staff both COVID wards and our regular medicine units is precarious.”

They say the province needs to prioritize vaccinations to ensure the safety of people who work on the units and to prevent the spread of the disease in hospitals and the community.

It’s also important, the doctors added, to maintain capacity in the system with a healthy workforce.

Neither Alberta Health nor Alberta Health Services immediately responded to a request for comment.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 7, 2021.

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