Ontario family physicians say they’re frustrated by a lack of communication and clarity around the province’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan, as their clinics continue to be flooded with phone calls from patients asking for details about inoculation.
“The staff is being overwhelmed by it,” said Dr. Yoel Abells from his Toronto clinic on Eglinton Avenue West.
“There’s tremendous frustration amongst doctors, there’s uncertainty about communication issue, there’s uncertainty about what to tell patients, and the impact of that is more than just on us. People in the community are worried.”
“Our phones have been ringing off the hook with inquiries of the COVID vaccines,” added Dr. Farah Jetha of Crosstown Family Health Team.
“We have yet to be given guidance on vaccine supply in our office, but we’re also expected to provide this guidance to our patients as they’re hearing it on the news.”
Abells believes the fault lies with the Doug Ford government, which he said had months to prepare and relay a distribution plan for the province’s physicians, but is only now releasing details on the role doctors will play in the vaccination process.
“It’s reactive instead of proactive,” said Abells. “The biggest mistake is that we knew the vaccine was coming three to four months ago and three to four months ago they should’ve started to effect a plan.”
He said his patients are now signing up at multiple sites, unsure of which location will guarantee them the vaccine, which is also creating a major backlog in the system.
Abells also claims the confusion could have been avoided if the province had included a family physician on the vaccination task force announced in early December of last year.
“We’re the ones who gave most flu vaccines, most of the general vaccines,” he said. “We know how it works, we know what patients are going to ask, we know what patients are concerned about. We were not brought to the table, to the discussion, until relatively recently.”
On Friday, retired general Rick Hillier, the head of Ontario’s vaccination distribution task force, gave some clarity to family physicians looking to begin vaccinations.
“They will be part of the AstraZeneca rollout starting literally next week,” said Hillier.
He added that physicians will be able to vaccinate patients in three ways: either at their own clinics, at a mass vaccination site while teaming up with several other doctors, or through what he referred to as a ‘SWAT team’ approach, where doctors go directly to residences to vaccinate people with chronic care conditions.
Hillier didn’t specify when doctors would learn which inoculation process they’ll get to partake in or who decides for them. He also didn’t provide an exact date for when physicians would receive doses to administer to their patients.
“Family doctors are part of the rollout here,” he said. “They will have more and more information in the next days and weeks as the vaccines roll in.”
Abells said the government is now moving in the right direction by providing some clarity this week, but wonders why vaccination plans at family doctors’ clinics weren’t already firmly in place before the vaccines arrived.
In the meantime, he’s imploring his patients and others to not register at multiple vaccination clinics out of panic.
“Find out which hospital is responsible for your region and then register there,” he said. “Do not register at multiple places. Not only is it not going to increase your chances to get the vaccine — or if it does, it’s minimal — it’s also going to overload the system.”
Meanwhile, neither Abells nor Jetha have heard when their clinics will receive the AstraZeneca vaccine, even though Hillier said in his press conference that it would be next week.
“We are hoping with the new approval of the AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson vaccines that we will be more involved in the roll out process and be able to vaccinate our patients soon,” said Jetha.
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