'We are scared': Nurses plead to be fully vaccinated

Just last week, a nurse in the hard-hit Peel region died as a result of COVID-19

Elizabeth Payne May 3, 2021

Fourteen months into the pandemic, with more vaccines on the horizon and brighter days ahead, a group of Ottawa nurses say they are more vulnerable than ever to contracting COVID-19 and are terrified.

The nurses, who have asked not to be identified to protect their jobs, are pleading with officials for a second dose of COVID-19 vaccine urgently, saying the high numbers of seriously ill COVID-19 patients in hospitals is putting them at increasing risk. Just last week, a nurse in the hard-hit Peel region died as a result of COVID-19.

“We are scared. We are worried about dying,” said one of the nurses. “We would like to have as much protection against it as possible.”

Their fears have heightened in recent weeks with record numbers of COVID-19 patients in Ontario hospitals and staff being asked to redeploy as many programs and services have been paused to deal with the influx. The nurses say they are more likely to be working directly with COVID-19 patients now than ever.

“If we are not fully protected and redeployed to places that primarily treat COVID patients, we will start dropping like flies,” said one. “If we want nurses to take care of these patients, we need to make sure they are protected.”

The nurse said the government would find it easier to bring health-care workers back from retirement to help “if they knew the government would take care of them.” Instead, she said, many are now leaving the profession.

One of them sent an email to Premier Doug Ford explaining the situation and asking that nurses be fully vaccinated. She received a form letter about the government’s vaccination rollout in response.

“I showed it to some nurses on our floor and they were appalled and at the same time not surprised that our government didn’t even take the time to read a very specific email about healthcare workers.”

She and the others said they are sick of being called heroes and just want to know the government has their backs.

The Ottawa nurses are not the first to plead for second doses for hospital staff.

The head of the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, Dr. Thierry Mesana, has urged the provincial government to fully vaccinate all front-line workers, saying a four-month gap between doses is putting them, and the entire health system, at too much risk.

Earlier this spring and late winter there were several deadly COVID-19 outbreaks at hospitals in Ottawa in which partially vaccinated health workers, as well as patients, became infected.

Cardiologists from across the country have joined in the call for full vaccination of front-line workers.

The province says that it is following the guidance of NACI, the national advisory committee on immunization, that the second dose can be delayed for up to four months.

Messana, and others, say that delay makes sense for people who don’t face direct risk of COVID, in order to get a wider swath of the population vaccinated sooner. But for health workers, he said, it does not make sense, as cases in Ottawa hospitals and elsewhere have shown.


Health workers have accounted for about 10 per cent of COVID-19 cases across the country since the pandemic began.

Last week, a nurse from hard-hit Peel in the Greater Toronto Area, died of COVID. Hers was one of more that two-dozen such deaths since the pandemic began.

Frontline health-care workers were among the first to be vaccinated in Ottawa and elsewhere when the Pfizer vaccines began trickling in at the end of last year. Because the province did not allow the vaccines to be moved outside of hospitals, health workers and caregivers for people in long-term care were the first in line.

As a result, some health-care workers received a second dose before the province changed its protocol and began spacing first and second doses by up to four months.

But many other health workers were left partially vaccinated.

Since then, the third wave of COVID-19 has hit Ontario hospitals hard and meant health-care workers who wouldn’t have been directly treating COVID-19 patients in the past, now are likely to be as staff from throughout the health system are redeployed to deal with the crisis.

The nurses who spoke to this newspaper say making sure they are fully vaccinated would not mean a huge number of doses, in the scheme of things, and should be a priority.

They also say the one-per-cent cap on wage increases, especially during the pandemic, and the fact that many health-care workers who don’t work full-time still have only limited access to sick benefits, undermines statements from the government in support of the health workforce.

“We are struggling. We need help. We need support way more than just the thank-you, you are heroes,” said one of the nurses.

COVID-19 vaccinations are ramping up to record levels in Ontario beginning this month. There have been suggestions that the four-month gap between first and second doses could be shortened as more vaccines are available, but there has been no commitment to fully vaccinate front-line health workers.


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