Ontario massage therapists, naturopaths among COVID-19 vaccine recipients as some over 80 still wait

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WATCH ABOVE: York Region is moving forward and vaccinating high-priority health-care workers who live in the area; this includes chiropractors, RMTs and mental health and addiction workers. As Erica Vella reports, the premier urged public health units in Ontario to prioritize elderly people – Mar 16, 2021

As the Ontario government continues to work through the first phase of its coronavirus vaccination plan, questions are being raised about why regulated health professionals such as massage therapists and naturopaths are receiving shots as some people 80 and older are still lining up.

“I encourage every public health unit: let’s make sure we get 80-plus over,” Premier Doug Ford said when asked about the issue during an unrelated news conference Tuesday afternoon.

“Folks, let’s just get the 80-year-old-plus done and then we’ll move to the next stage … you can’t justify it. Let’s start moving.”

The comments seemingly contradicted what is being done in certain public health units, such as in York Region where the medical officer of health said they are following provincial rules and vaccinating regulated health professionals deemed “high priority.” Durham Region officials confirmed they are also at the same stage too.

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Dr. Karim Kurji, the medical officer of health for York Region, told Global News in a statement approximately 65 per cent of all residents 80 and older in his jurisdiction have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“This is a significant milestone. However, it also means uptake in this group has now slowed down,” he said Tuesday afternoon.

Kurji went on to say staff have moved on to vaccinating medical professionals in accordance with Ontariowide rules.

“Yesterday we were able to open up appointments to the high-priority health-care workers as outlined in the province’s plan,” he said.

Read more: Ontario Hospital Association, science advisor say province in 3rd COVID-19 wave amid spike in variant cases

When it comes to COVID-19 vaccines, the federal government provides the supply of the four approved shots to the provinces for distribution. In Ontario, it’s been primarily left to the 34 public health units to come up with vaccination plans using guidance provided by the provincial government.

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Under the first phase of Ontario’s vaccination plan, adults 80 and older, seniors in congregate living settings, adults in First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations, adults with chronic conditions who receiving home care and health care workers are all grouped together.

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The latter half of the first phase appears to group seniors 80 and older with those in retirement homes or other congregate settings for senior, adult recipients of chronic home care, Indigenous adults, and health-care workers “identified as the high priority level” in the Ontario Ministry of Health’s guidelines for the prioritizing of vaccines for health-care workers.

Read more: Ontario reports 1,074 new coronavirus cases, 11 more deaths

In those guidelines for health-care workers, those who work in developmental services, mental health and addictions, campus health, community diagnostic imaging, daycare or school nursing, dieticians, optometry, podiatry, audiology, naturopathy, social services, sexual health clinic, chronic pain, chiropractic, kinesiology, occupational therapy, physiotherapy, psychiatry, psychology, psychotherapy, massage therapy, acupuncture, and public health capacities would be eligible for vaccines.

Ford, who praised Kurji and the faster speed of York Region Public Health staff, was asked about the government’s guidelines. He said his advice is to prioritize older residents over those in regulated health professions.

“There’s a lot of smart public health officers out there but you know let’s just think this out for a minute. Who are you going to prioritize?” Ford said.

“God bless the massage therapists, we need them and they’re great folks, but prioritize 80-plus. Let’s make sure we take care of them, they’re the most vulnerable. Seventy is the most vulnerable, so on and so forth.

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“I’m encouraging every single public health unit to take care of the most vulnerable, the PHUs and then we’ll get to the massage therapists and get to everyone else.”

Global News contacted Ford’s office to ask more about his comments Tuesday afternoon, if there might be a change in the directions given to public health units, and if there should be a hierarchy in phase one that would see those 80 and older vaccinated first.

A spokesperson said Ford reiterated the need to vaccinate those who are eldest first while also providing shots to health professionals, noting that is in the framework. However, an answer wasn’t provided on if those who are 80 and older should be prioritized in the remaining weeks of phase one.

Meanwhile, Kurji said staff are prepared to move on to other populations after high-priority health-care workers slows down.

Read more: How to navigate Ontario’s COVID-19 vaccine booking system

“We look forward to moving on to phase two of the provincial plan as soon as we can to vaccinate our most vulnerable residents,” he said.

Michael Feraday, the executive director of the Registered Massage Therapists Association of Ontario, told Global News the current priority plan by the province’s health ministry has been in place for months and was developed by medical experts.

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“This is not the time to make a decision of the moment. I mean I think it’s important to adhere to the plan,” he said.

“We are not just about rehab. We provide a lot of relief to stress, of things like depression, stress, anxiety. These are huge issues right now with COVID.”

— With files from Erica Vella

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