Calgary pediatricians criticized for letters opposing vaccine mandates


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Jason Haring

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Sep 24, 2021 • 1 day ago • Read 4 minutes • 103 Comments Alberta Children’s Hospital in Calgary, on Friday October 12, 2018. Photo by Leah Hennel /Postmedia

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Two pediatricians at Alberta Children’s Hospital have been criticized for recently writing letters expressing their opposition to vaccine mandates for health professionals.

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dr. Eric Payne and Dr. Michael Vila wrote in their respective letters that they have not been vaccinated against COVID-19. Both characterized COVID-19 vaccines as “experimental” and question the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine.

Data from Alberta shows that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing both symptomatic illness and serious consequences of the novel coronavirus.

Both mRNA vaccines approved for use in Canada—manufactured by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna—are more than 90 percent effective in preventing symptomatic disease due to COVID-19, and vaccines were 85 percent effective against the Delta virus. variant in Alberta.

Of the 243 COVID-19 patients currently in Alberta’s ICUs, only about eight percent have been fully vaccinated, despite this group making up more than 62 percent of the province’s population. And only about one in 2,000 Albertans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine have reported side effects.

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Teams in a crowded ICU in Calgary work on a patient on a ventilator. Photo provided by AHS

It is incorrect to call COVID-19 vaccines experimental, said Dr. Jia Hu, a public health physician in Calgary, who noted that mRNA vaccines have received full approval from Health Canada. He said there is data on billions of people around the world who have had at least one vaccination.

Hu said vaccines offer significant health benefits in all age groups, something that is important with the continued high levels of community virus spread in Alberta.

“There is nothing that is completely safe. There is nothing that is perfectly effective, not just in vaccine country, but anywhere in the world,” Hu said. “The thing with these vaccines is, no matter how old you are, the balance of benefits and risks is so much higher for taking the vaccine than not.”

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Timothy Caulfield, a Canadian research chair in health law and policy at the University of Alberta, said it is frustrating to see regulated health professionals spreading what he described as misinformation.

“To suggest that there is a lack of efficacy is downright ridiculous. At this stage, it’s like denying the pull of gravity,” Caulfield said.

“The safety data is also incredibly impressive. Not only do we have impressive clinical trials, but the vaccines have been administered to hundreds of millions of people, so we also have mountains of surveillance data.”

The doctors are looking for evidence to support their views, Caulfield argued.

Payne and Vila work at Alberta Children’s Hospital, which recently closed 75 percent of its operating rooms due to the strain on Alberta’s hospital system during the fourth wave of COVID-19.

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In Payne’s letter, he wrote that he and his family have continued to be fully vaccinated, arguing that the risk of spreading COVID-19 to his pediatric patients and leading to serious consequences is “minor”.

In a statement to Postmedia, Payne said his position is independent of his employer. He said he has seen firsthand the impact of tensions in ICUs on patient care, but said he stands by his letter and supports patient autonomy and informed consent.

“I am particularly concerned that these experimental vaccines are being forced on our children as a requirement to attend school or participate in extracurricular activities. I don’t feel like parents and teens are getting informed consent,” Payne said.

Payne’s letter was addressed to the Board of the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA). In a statement, the CPSA said that while the college cannot speak about specific cases, it is aware of a “small number” of doctors making claims that conflict with the current consensus on vaccines and are “very concerned” about them. .

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“CPSA recognizes that these are difficult times for frontline health professionals. However, spreading misinformation about vaccines that goes against current evidence and advice is inconsistent with a physician’s professional responsibility to their patients,” the college said.

The CPSA added that the college recently surveyed the appeal over COVID-19 vaccination and found that 96 percent of approximately 5,100 respondents said they were fully immunized.

Vila wrote in his letter that he is not an anti-vaxxer, and he has consistently advocated for children to get other vaccines if parents hesitate to do so. He told Postmedia that he advocates for the best possible health outcomes for his patients.

“If we had seen a high number of hospital admissions within the pediatric population, or if it had been clear and supported by the evidence that being vaccinated reduced transmissibility to my patients, I would have modified my decision to reflect that,” Vila said. in his letter, which was sent to the leadership of the AHS.

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AHS announced on Aug. 31 that staff must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by Oct. 31 or risk taking unpaid leave. The health authority said on Friday that the “vast majority” of health professionals have already been fully vaccinated, aiming to achieve 100 percent uptake. More than 49,000 employees have already submitted their vaccination certificates, AHS said.

Hu said doctors who express doubts about the efficacy and safety of vaccines could provide fuel for those who oppose vaccines.

“It’s pretty dangerous when you have even a few doctors saying things like this because they’re really good hubs for anti-vaxxers to organize themselves around,” he said.

“If an anti-vaxxer can stick to a doctor’s words, someone with ‘MD’ after their name saying vaccines aren’t safe, they’re much more potent.”

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Twitter: @jasonfherring

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