‘An absolute gong show’: Employees working from home get COVID-19 shot ahead of Toronto doctors, front-line workers

As some front-line health-care workers and long-term care home residents await their COVID-19 vaccinations, critics are decrying the fact that some non-front-line staff, including those who have been working from home, are rolling up their sleeves for a shot.

“It is an absolute gong show,” Mount Sinai’s Director of Geriatrics Samir Sinha said Tuesday.

In an internal email, the University Health Network invited researchers to get vaccinated; the William Osler health system, meanwhile, invited any team member to get a vaccination, writing “this includes any back-office/administrative staff or volunteer.”

William Osler said in a statement “with considerable progress made, Osler has begun to administer vaccinations to hospital staff and physicians as well as volunteers who spend time within hospital facilities.”

Michael Garron Hospital, meanwhile, said that it initially only vaccinated “patient-facing” staff, and that it has now vaccinated all long-term care home residents under its jurisdiction. It is now offering the vaccine to non-frontline staff.

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, our best defense against this deadly virus has been to operate with speed, not perfection,” Dr. Ian Fraser, Chief of Staff at Michael Garron Hospital, told CTV News Toronto in a statement.

The provincial guidelines, according to Fraser, allow for the vaccination of “any regulated health professionals and any staff member, contract workers, student/trainee, registered volunteer, or other essential caregiver currently working in a health care organization, including workers in non-direct patient care roles such as cleaning staff, food services staff, information technology staff, security, research staff, and other administrative staff.”

Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family physician in Burlington, said many of her colleagues were “rightfully frustrated.”

“I’m hearing from so many frontline healthcare workers who have not heard about when they will be able to get access to the COVID-19 vaccine,” she said. “So it’s very disheartening to hear that people who are not working on the frontlines, who are lower-risk, for example, in an administrative role, are being given the vaccination.”

Sinha, meanwhile, questioned the decision to vaccinate health-care workers—especially non-frontline ones—before all long-term care home residents.

“It boggles my mind, because frankly by allowing this to happen, we are participating in allowing seniors to unnecessarily die and that sickens me greatly,” Sinha said. “We need precision when we don’t have enough vaccines, and precision to get the vaccines into the right arms, not just any arms.”

The Ministry of Health did not respond to CTV News Toronto’s request for comment Tuesday. The province has vowed to immunize all health care workers and long-term care residents and staff in the four priority regions by Jan. 21. 

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