Calgary pediatricians are criticized for letters opposing vaccination mandates

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Two pediatricians at Alberta Children’s Hospital are facing criticism after recently writing letters describing their opposition to vaccine mandates for healthcare professionals.

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Dr. Eric Payne and Dr. Michael Vila wrote in their respective letters that they are unvaccinated against COVID-19. They both characterized COVID-19 vaccines as “experimental” and cast doubt on the efficacy and safety of vaccines.

Alberta data show that vaccines are safe and effective in preventing both symptomatic disease and severe outcomes from the new 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 have been 85 percent effective against the Delta variant in Alberta.

Among the 243 COVID-19 patients currently in Alberta ICUs, only about eight percent are fully vaccinated, despite the fact that this group makes up more than 62 percent of the province’s population. And only about every 2,000 Albertans who have received a COVID-19 vaccine have reported adverse effects.

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Hold in a crowded Calgary ICU working on a patient in a ventilator.
Hold in a crowded Calgary ICU working on a patient in a ventilator. Photo taken by AHS

It is inaccurate to call COVID-19 vaccines experimental, said Calgary Public Health Dr. Jia Hu, who noted that mRNA vaccines have received full Health Canada approval. He said there is data from billions worldwide who have had at least one shot vaccine.

Hu said vaccines provide significant health benefits in all age groups, something that is important with ongoing high levels of viruses from the community spread in Alberta.

“There is nothing that is certain. There is nothing that is perfectly effective, not just in vaccine countries, but anywhere in the world, ”Hu said. “The thing about these vaccines is that no matter how old you are, the benefits between risks and risks are so much higher for taking the vaccine than not.”

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Timothy Caulfield, a Canada Research Chair in Health Law and Policy at the University of Alberta, said it’s frustrating to see regulated health professionals spread what he characterized as disinformation.

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

“Security 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 monitoring data. ”

Doctors are cherry-picking evidence to support their views, Caulfield claimed.

Payne and Vila work at Alberta Children’s Hospital, which recently closed 75 percent of its operating rooms due to 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 are otherwise completely vaccinated, arguing that the risk of spreading COVID-19 to his pediatric patients and leading to serious outcomes is “small.”

In a statement to Postmedia, Payne said his position is independent of his employer. He said he has personally seen the impact on patient care from strains on ICUs, 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 go to school or participate in leisure activities. I do not feel that parents and teenagers receive informed consent, ”Payne said.

Payne’s letter was addressed to the College of Physicians & Surgeons of Alberta (CPSA) Council. In a statement, the CPSA said that although the college could not speak to specific cases, it said it was aware of a “small number” of doctors making claims that are against the current consensus on vaccines and are “very concerned” about this.

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“CPSA recognizes that this is a trial period for frontline health workers. However, spreading misinformation about vaccines contrary to current evidence and advice is not in line with a physician’s professional responsibility to their patients, ”the college said.

The CPSA added that the college recently surveyed the profession of COVID-19 vaccination and found that 96 percent of approximately 5,100 respondents indicated that they are fully immunized.

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

“Had we seen a large amount of admissions within the pediatric population, or if it had been obvious and supported by the evidence that vaccination reduced transmission to my patients, I would have adjusted my decision to reflect that,” Vila said in his letter, which was sent to the AHS management.

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AHS announced on August 31 that its personnel must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by October 31 or risk being put on unpaid leave. The health authority said Friday that “the vast majority” of health professionals are already fully immunized with their goal of reaching 100 percent admission. More than 49,000 employees have already submitted their evidence of vaccination, AHS said.

Hu said doctors who doubt the vaccine’s effectiveness and safety can provide fuel to those who oppose vaccinations.

“It’s pretty dangerous when you even have a couple of doctors saying something like that because they’s really good hubs for anti-waxers to organize around,” he said.

“When an anti-waxer can hang on to a doctor’s word, there’s someone with ‘MD’ behind their name who says vaccines are not safe, they are much more powerful.”

jherring@postmedia.com

Twitter: @jasonfherring

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