Physicians of Saskatchewan call on provincial government to re-evaluate vaccine delivery plan

Saskatchewan Medical Association
The provincial government’s Immunization Delivery Plan unveiled this week fails to give the protections all physicians and health-care workers need to care for their patients, whether they have COVID-19 or not, and does not provide reassurance to patients that the health-care system is safe, according to Dr. Barb Konstantynowicz, president of the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA).

The plan includes previously specified timelines for health-care workers, including physicians, in high-risk settings, but lacks any further detail regarding vaccination timelines. Health-care workers, including physicians, are not mentioned in subsequent phases.

Dr. Konstantynowicz says patients who require care from a physician or treatment in a health-care facility need a clear understanding that they will be safe because their care provider has been vaccinated.

“As a family physician and as president of the SMA, I worry about the many physicians across the province who are seeing patients daily and who are not protected,” she said. “I am concerned about patients who may be reluctant to see their doctors out of fear of contracting COVID-19. A more planned, systematic approach to vaccinations among 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.”

Dr. Konstantynowicz noted the province’s 2,600 physicians were looking for certainty on when they will be vaccinated, but the Immunization Delivery Plan does not provide it. A previously circulated draft plan was specific about health-care workers in high-risk settings (with aerosolized virus) in Phase 1. That plan indicated that most remaining physicians were slated to be vaccinated in Phase 2. According to standards developed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations, health-care workers should be prioritized for vaccines because they provide front-line care to patients so as to protect the capacity of the health-care system.

“When we look to many other provinces and from what we are learning globally, vaccine rollout explicitly includes health-care workers in early phases of rollout,” Dr. Konstantynowicz said. “Vaccination planning isn’t just about vaccinating those at highest risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19, but of protecting health system capacity by vaccinating health-care workers as soon as possible so that they aren’t taken out of the workforce by even a mild COVID-19 infection. Patients can’t get the care they need if health-care workers are quarantining. Our health system is strained as it is.”

“Physicians and other front-line health-care workers feel they have been overlooked and we are calling on Health Minister Paul Merriman to remedy this situation,” Dr. Konstantynowicz continued. “From the beginning, physicians have been advocating for a vaccine delivery plan that properly considers all clinical work environments and the safety of their patients.”