Alberta doctors question vaccine priorities in letter to health minister

EDMONTON — More than 200 Alberta doctors say health-care staff working in COVID-19 wards should be vaccinated sooner than currently scheduled.

In an open letter addressed to health minister Tyler Shandro, the physicians call for “urgent prioritization” for those who work directly with people hospitalized by the disease, but outside the intensive care unit.

Alberta is currently in Phase 1A of its vaccine distribution, which prioritizes hospital staff who work in ICU and emergency departments, as well as respiratory therapists.

Health-care workers in COVID-19 wards are included in Phase 1B of the rollout, which is scheduled to begin next month.

“Although we have received significant moral support from our other medical colleagues, we need more that than that,” states the letter. “We need support in the way of prioritized vaccine to ensure the safety of the individuals that work on these units, to prevent the spread of this virulent disease throughout the hospitals and community.”

CTV News Edmonton contacted Shandro’s office for comment but has not received a response.

The letter also openly questions the vaccine prioritization process as a whole, highlighting what it calls a “lack of transparency” and questioning why the framework for establishing the distribution list is not available to the public.

“We do not know who even has the final say with respect to developing such a list,” states the letter.

The list is developed by officials at Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services, according to Alberta Health, and is guided by recommendations from the National Advisory Committee on Immunization.

“The decisions are based on ethical and clinical data, such as workforce considerations, vulnerability and risk of severe illness or death as a result of COVID-19, and access to health care,” said Tom McMillan, assistant director of communications at Alberta Health, in a statement to CTV News Edmonton.

Asked who has final say on such decisions, CTV News Edmonton received this response from McMillan:

“It is a collaborative process between Alberta Health and Alberta Health Services.”

The former statement aligns with what Premier Jason Kenney stated during a Jan. 1 press conference when asked about vaccine prioritization.

“The bottom line is, we’re following scientific advice. The decision of who, in the health care system, is vaccinated and when is not, of course, a political decision. It is a decision of the scientific experts,” Kenney said.

The letter was also sent to Kenney and Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health.

You can read the full letter online.

As of Jan. 5, more than 86 per cent of patients (919) in Alberta hospitals due to COVID-19 were outside the ICU, and thus cared for by staff who, according to the priority list, will not receive a vaccination until Feburary.

Shandro said Tuesday that Alberta would have vaccinated more than 29,000 Albertans by the end of the day and has administered the second-most doses per capita of any province or territory in Canada.

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