A Saskatoon neonatal intensive care unit (ICU) nurse isn’t asking to be at the front of the line for the novel coronavirus vaccine, but she does want to be given priority.
Gail Kizlyk’s role as a transport nurse includes travelling to communities across Saskatchewan, stabilizing babies and bringing them back to Saskatoon. She manages airways and intubates, among other responsibilities.
“I never thought that I wouldn’t be made a priority in a pandemic,” Kizlyk told Global News.
During a Thursday news conference, Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe stated not every health care worker will be given priority access to the COVID-19-preventing vaccine because supplies have been more scarce than planned.
Under the first phase of the province’s vaccination rollout plan, health care workers have been prioritized in ICUs, COVID-19 wards and emergency departments, along with several other areas.
During the second phase, beginning as early as April, health officials will administer the vaccine based on age groups, beginning with the oldest citizens.
“I think (citing) scarcity is a way to deflect actual planning,” Kizlyk said.
The Saskatchewan government has faced backlash from the medical community this week, including the Saskatchewan Medical Association (SMA). An SMA news release stated health care workers should be prioritized during the vaccination process under guidelines laid out by the National Advisory Committee on Immunizations.
A mid-January presentation to doctors by the Saskatchewan Health Authority stated all health care workers would be given priority during the vaccination process.
The change announced this week has left staff feeling disrespected, according to Saskatchewan Union of Nurses president Tracy Zambory.
“It’s dangerous, and it could very, very negatively impact health care in this province,” Zambory said.
She said the majority of health care workers range in age from 40 to 45, meaning there will be multiple tiers of the general population vaccinated before health care providers.
Health policy consultant Dr. Dennis Kendel sees a “legitimate concern” being raised by people working in the health care sector. He said it’s not just self-interest at play when staff are forced to quarantine and rendered unable to provide care.
He used an analogy from another form of frontline work.
“If you’re going to send firefighters into a burning building, they ought to have the proper equipment to prevent them from being overcome,” Kendel said.
Vaccine scarcity shouldn’t affect the sequencing of recipients, according to Saskatoon police Chief Troy Cooper. He wants officers to have the option to get immunized early if they are doing high-risk work with the public.
“When it is available, and before the general public receives the vaccine, there should be some priority given to the front line staff,” Cooper said.
A review is underway by the Ministry of Health to consider adding more health care workers to the prioritization list. Other lines of work are not being considered, according to a statement from the Ministry of Health.
“Not all health care providers are deemed high risk; there will still be health care providers who will receive their immunizations as part of the age-based, mass vaccination plans,” the statement reads.
In the future, Kendel wants to see a tiered committee structure create “an evidence-based immunization plan” as the province’s decision-making body.
He said it would ensure policy remains true to the scientific evidence, “as opposed to going where the wind is blowing from.”