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Toronto nurses upset over COVID-19 vaccine access, allege frontline medical staff not being prioritized

Click to play video 'Ontario hospital staff say they’re being overlooked as others jump COVID-19 vaccine queue' Ontario hospital staff say they’re being overlooked as others jump COVID-19 vaccine queue
WATCH ABOVE: The arrival of COVID-19 vaccines has been called a beacon of hope, but some health-care workers on the frontline say the rollout and distribution of vaccines has been a disaster with those who need it most being overlooked. Miranda Anthistle has the details – Jan 8, 2021

Health-care workers are voicing their frustrations about the COVID-19 vaccine distribution. The most serious allegation is that frontline nurses and physicians aren’t being prioritized when it comes to getting vaccinated.

“It is incredibly frustrating and incredibly disheartening,” said a Toronto nurse who works in a COVID-19 intensive care unit, but who wishes to remain anonymous because she fears she could lose her job for speaking out.

“I have watched people get [the vaccine] who have not touched a patient in over a year-and-a-half… I have watched management get it. I have watched people who so deserve to get it not get it.”
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Long-term care residents and staff have been prioritized in the province, followed by staff who interact with COVID-19 patients in hospitals and other health-care professionals. However, nurses at several different Toronto hospitals alleged this is not the case.

Read more: ‘Urgently need vaccine’ says Toronto’s University Health Network president on COVID-19 doses

“The rollout of the vaccine was started in tiers as it should be, but they didn’t complete the full vaccinations of the initial tiers. The frontline staff working directly with COVID patients weren’t all done before it was opened up to all staff working with patients,” said another nurse who also asked to remain anonymous.

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Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre confirmed it has four levels of staff who have been slotted to receive the vaccine.

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“Frontline workers in high-risk areas remain our priority… administrative staff are in the fourth tier and will be the last to receive the vaccine,” said Craig DuHamel, the hospital’s vice president of communications.

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Meanwhile, the Toronto East Health Network said it also has a priority list. It has vaccinated more than 50 per cent of its patient-facing staff, but admitted to offering the vaccine to others who work inside Michael Garron Hospital.

Read more: Ontario hospitals told to prepare for out-of-region patients amid rising coronavirus cases

“In order to ensure we are vaccinating as many people as possible every day, we need to cast a wider net than patient-facing staff which is why we have moved down our priority list quite quickly to get to all staff,” said Erica Di Maio, who is the manager of corporate communications for the hospital.

The nurses Global News spoke with said the reality is that those on the frontlines who are risking their lives to save others are being overlooked while those facing little-to-no risk are getting the vaccine.

“We literally throw our bodies onto people’s chests just so they can live a second longer and this vaccine is life-saving,” said a nurse, stressing how important it is for high-risk people to be vaccinated.

“More people are going to die because of this lack of a rollout. It is so disheartening.”

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Toronto hospitals are already facing a major roadblock with the amount of vaccines available. The University Health Network said it will run out by Friday and has thousands of people booked to receive a dose this weekend. Its president and CEO Dr. Kevin Smith said the government must strengthen the supply chain immediately.

Others on the frontline have a similar plea, including nurses in the city’s ICUs.

“We are exhausted. We are not being treated like heroes. Save your thank yous. Save your pots and pans. We don’t want them anymore. Just give us the vaccine, be transparent,” one of the nurses said.