BOOSTER BUMBLING

 Guest Post by Ron Penney

ON
A WILD GOOSE CHASE – SEARCHING FOR 
THE ELUSIVE BOOSTER SHOT 

Like
those of you who are of a certain age, I was very much looking forward to
getting my booster shot, particularly with the advent of the omicron variant,
which has proven to be much more contagious, although so far a much more benign
variant.
 

The
evidence is that the two doses does not provide much protection from
getting  the variant but does protect
against hospitalization and fatal outcomes for those who are fully vaccinated.
The booster shot gives much more protection from infection and lessens the
severity of symptoms even more.
 

The
objective has to be to not overwhelm our hospitals, as they also experience the
loss of health care workers who have to self isolate because of possible
exposure. So far our hospitalizations are very low, but the experience of other
jurisdictions demonstrates that this is unlikely to last.
 

We
know that covid disproportionately effects the elderly and those with
underlying health conditions. This province has the largest percentage of both,
so wisely the original vaccination effort was prioritized on that basis.
 

I
thought that effort was very well planned and implemented and was accepted by
citizens as a fair process, and one which would reduce hospitalizations and
fatal outcomes for those who are most susceptible.
 

So
when the Premier and Minister of health announced several weeks ago that
booster shots for those who were eligible would be available at pharmacies and
that the doses would be Moderna, I, along with the tens of thousands eligible
set forth to our pharmacies to arrange an appointment. The Premier said just
walk into a pharmacy and we would be given our boosters.
 


The
reality was different. My pharmacy, Lawton’s, told me that they had no vaccine
and didn’t expect to be in a position to even schedule appointments until mid
January. (I now understand that they expect to start scheduling appointments in
early January.) My pharmacist told me that the first they heard of their being
enlisted was on the news! It turns out that no one thought to engage the
Pharmacy Association before the announcement was made.

Well,
I thought, I’ll just ignore what the Premier and Minister of Health told me and
I went to the Get the Shot website to get an appointment. I went “booster
shopping”, to use the Health Minister’s hectoring phrase. Like most of the rest
of you all I saw was “no appointments available.”
 

Being
relatively savvy on my IPad, I then went to the Shoppers website and, to my
surprise, it was a very good one and tells you which of their pharmacies have
the vaccine. So I made a call to one of them to make an appointment but was
told it was walk-in only. Despite seeing the lineups by my fellow seniors at
one of the other Shoppers stores we went to the one in Paradise which I had
been speaking to, fully expecting a long lineup. Seeing none, we went inside
and were told it was by appointment only, but would we like an appointment on
Boxing Day! Of course we would and got our boosters on December 26th, I’m
pleased to report.
 

While
some of my friends and family did manage to snag appointments at the government
website or at pharmacies, many haven’t. And I know of some who went as far as
Carbonear to get a shot. And we are putting health care workers through the
same process.
 

Our
experience with getting the flue shot was vastly different. There was a generic
website which allowed you to book the shot at your nearest pharmacy. It worked
well for us. Why Shoppers, as a national chain, doesn’t have a booking site, is
odd, but even more odd is  making seniors
stand out in the cold for hours in the hope of getting their booster. Why
anyone would think that was a good idea is beyond me.
 

I
also approached my family doctor, who I knew from past experience did flue
shots for his patents. The answer was that he had no vaccines.
 

In
recent days the Chief Medical Officer of Health has implored her colleagues to
participate in the vaccination effort. A bit late in the game I would have
thought. And I note the Dental Association has offered to help out, as they did
previously, with no response.
 

One
of my in-laws sent me a text a couple of days ago telling me that a mobile
vaccination clinic was making seemingly random visits to supermarket parking
lots.
 

And
then, to add insult to injury, I see the Premier administering booster shots at
the Confederation Building. The question is how exactly people were chosen to
jump the line. Retired public servants were said to be part of the 1000 people
vaccinated. I’m one of them, but nobody reached out to me! I  can’t imagine that the seniors who had to
lineup in the cold to get their booster shot are happy at this turn of events.
It should be seen for what it was – a photo opportunity for the Premier to be
seen in doctor mode.
 

And
now he’s off to Labrador to administer more boosters. May I remind him he’s
supposed to be the full-time Premier of the province and shouldn’t be
moonlighting. I’m pleased to see that 
MHA Leila Evans has made the same point.
 

It
turns out that contrary to what the Minister of Health and Premier implied at
the time about easy access to booster shots at our local pharmacy, they didn’t
even have a supply! And then they changed the eligibility criteria from six
months to 24 weeks and then reduced it to 22 weeks. How crazy is that?
 

What
should have happened?
 

First
of all, we should have used the same priority system that had been established
by the first rollout of the first and second dose. This what our sister
jurisdiction, Nova Scotia has done. I heard Bob Cadigan on CBC radio making a
plaintive request through the airways for a booster shot for his daughter who
would have been looked after under the old system. There might be an argument
for giving priority to teachers so children could get back to school. A friend
of mine has sent me the booking system in Kingston. I went on line and it
showed lots of appointments available early in January at multiple places. They
know what they are doing and we don’t.
 

Secondly,
they should have been honest about their initial lack of supply rather the
sending us on a largely futile search for an appointment at a pharmacy.
 

Thirdly,
they should have enlisted family physicians, pharmacists, and dentists at an
early stage.
 

They
knew months ago who and how many and at what time people were eligible for the
booster but they did not prepare.
 

The
fault is not that of the front line workers, who have been working so hard over
almost two years. It is a management and ministerial failure.
 

The
evidence is that after twelve days the booster brings our immunity up and
improves outcomes. Given how contagious the variant is, time is of the essence.
 

This
has been badly mishandled. Whether it will have an impact on our hospital
system or individual citizens remains to be seen. If it doesn’t, it will be a
result of good luck not good management.
 

And
why are we hoarding the rapid tests? Almost every other jurisdiction in Canada
is making them widely available and properly so. Given the demands on our
testing system, which will soon collapse, we need to use every tool at our
disposal to slow up the variant. There have been six hour lineups in Happy
Valley. The Minister says they have plenty of them. If so, use them there so
positive cases can be identified at least.
 

A
former Newfoundlander, Dr. Lisa Barrett, has led a successful effort in Nova
Scotia to administer rapid tests using volunteers, while ours gather dust.
Using them in schools might have allowed us to keep schools open rather than a
knee jerk reaction to close them, with all that means to our most vulnerable
group of students.
 

I
had attempted to register my complaints with senior officials at the Department
of Health but there is only a general email address for that Department, unlike
many other Departments where email addresses for their executive are listed. I
also managed to find the email address for the Chief Medical Officer of Health
and sent it to her. Needless to say there was no response or even an
acknowledgment from either.
 

I
know everyone is busy but I had a series of challenging jobs and no one could
ever say they didn’t get a timely response from me. The culture of the public
service has certainly changed and not for the best.
 

We
shouldn’t put up with this but we do. I was shocked when I listened to
interviews with those standing in line for their shot at their level of
acceptance of this poor treatment. We need to demand good public service, but
unless we do, nothing will change.
 

However,
I was pleased to hear a resident of Nain voicing criticism about the lack of
test kits there. The Minister of Health’s response was that he didn’t have a
crystal ball. It don’t take a crystal ball to know weeks ago that covid would
quickly reach our remote communities.
 

When
they announced earlier this week that there was a walk in clinic for us over
seventies on Monday and they would be giving priority to us I thought they were
starting to get themselves organized but no such luck. When I last looked on
Wednesday afternoon there were still no appointments available. It’s a totally
ad hoc process with no apparent plan. It’s a mess.
 

Good
luck in finding your booster shot and keeping covid at bay. Our shambolic
government hasn’t been much help. Your best bet is to monitor Peter Cowan’s and
the VOCM’s  Twitter accounts to see when
appointments might be available. A sad commentary on the state of our
vaccination effort.

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