Nili Kaplan-Myrth: Vaccination nation – or, a word with the prime minister

From our family doctor:
As a family doctor, I never dreamed I’d speak to the prime minister about a life and death issue for Canadians. But this afternoon (Thursday), joined by my RN colleague Amie Varley, I am moderating a panel of health-care workers and community advocates across the country. We’ve been called “front-line heroes” throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, but our voices are often excluded from decision-making tables. I put together this panel to have a national conversation about COVID-19 vaccination strategies. Many of the issues that keep me up at night are similar to the issues that keep my colleagues, patients, friends and family awake.
What it is that we are all worrying about? Geographic disparities. My friend is a doctor in Kenora. She told me that in a 700-km corridor, from Winnipeg to Thunder Bay, none of the doctors and nurses in intensive care units (ICUs) and emergency departments, staff in LTC, health workers in any setting – has received the vaccine. She told me how fragile their hospital is in a remote area, where their entire system could collapse if anyone on their team gets sick.
We’re worried about systemic inequalities in our health-care system. First Nations, Inuit and Metis patients, and racialized Canadians, occupy a disproportionate number of the beds in our ICUs, and make up a disproportionate number of deaths from COVID-19. People who live in poverty, or are homeless, are far less likely to access the vaccine than affluent people are. Registration for vaccination may be entirely online, reliant on individuals to act as if they are buying tickets to a rock concert. How will my patients who are in their 80s, or my patients who do not own computers, who have already struggled to book COVID-19 tests, ensure that they get their shots?
There are so many issues of equity and diversity. In the process of putting together our panel, I was approached by people who wanted to know if we would talk about the vulnerability of seniors who live in the community, people with disabilities, caregivers outside of institutional settings. I spoke with people who were concerned we’d forget about Canadians who live or work in shelters, in jails. I was also approached by women’s health experts, discussing the need for national standards to support pregnant and lactating women as recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine.
I couldn’t include every advocate or every subject in our conversation with the prime minister, let alone every province and territory. How does one cover issues of racism, ableism, ageism, sexism, language barriers, socioeconomic barriers, discrimination faced by LGBTQ patients, and all the ways in which our health care fundamentally disadvantages members of our society, all in a one-hour conversation about access to COVID-19 vaccine across the country?
I also wanted to address the idea that we are “in this together,” when in fact we tend to work in silos. Our panel brings us together: Nurses, doctors, midwives, pharmacists, personal support workers, health policy researchers, patient advocates, essential caregivers. We end the panel by talking about how we can collaborate to get the COVID-19 vaccine into the arms of Canadians.
While I am still pinching myself, amazed that this is possible – I’ve told my children to speak up for what matters, but who’d have thought I’d speak directly to the prime minister? – our panel is an example of the diverse voices that should be at every decision-making table. This is only the beginning of a collaborative conversation that I hope will continue.
Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, MD, CCFP, PhD, is a family doctor and anthropologist who writes about health policy and politics. She also co-hosts the podcast Rx:Advocacy.ca

Source: Nili Kaplan-Myrth: Vaccination nation – or, a word with the prime minister

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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