A year after the COVID-19 pandemic started, some Canadian doctors are experiencing high levels of fatigue and anxiety, according to a survey by the Canadian Medical Association, and concerns about the introduction of the vaccine in the country have been cited as one of the main reasons.
The CMA survey, conducted among 1,648 practicing doctors who responded between February 18 and 22, found that 69 percent experienced an increase in fatigue in the past year, with 65 percent fearful of the pandemic.
Canada’s vaccine rollout was suspended until February as delivery delays impacted the supply of Pfizer BioNTech and Moderna products. However, the rollout has increased in recent weeks as supplies have been restored and new vaccines have been approved.
Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family doctor in Burlington, Ontario, said she wasn’t surprised that doctors in the CMA survey reported high levels of fatigue and anxiety based on their own experiences and conversations with their peers over the past few months.
“If anything, I’m surprised it wasn’t higher,” she said.
The poll results were released on Wednesday. It has been almost a year since the World Health Organization named the COVID-19 crisis a global pandemic on March 11, 2020.
62 percent of respondents said concerns about vaccine adoption in Canada were negatively affecting their mental health, while prolonged periods of social disability (64 percent) and persistent uncertainty about the future (63 percent) were the other top concerns.
Family doctors have felt additional stress changing patient care since the pandemic began, Kwan says, and frustration has increased recently when taking calls and emails from patients about vaccine availability without many clear answers to give.
39 percent of respondents to the CMA survey said that the lack of cooperation with doctors in administering the vaccines was one of the main challenges in introducing the vaccine. Concerns about vaccine supply topped the list at 93 percent, while being clear about priority groups was also a popular response (52 percent).
Ontario announced Wednesday that primary care physicians in six regions – Toronto, Peel Region, Hamilton, Guelph, Peterborough and Simcoe-Muskoka – will begin giving COVID vaccines to patients aged 60 to 64 this weekend.
The rollout is expected to open to more general practitioners as the supply increases, which is what Kwan has been waiting for.
“We want to be able to help our patients and we know who need it,” she said. “But I don’t currently have access to the vaccines to do that.”
CMA President Dr. Ann Collins says GPs were underutilized during the rollout across the country. While some doctors have volunteered or been recruited to help administer vaccines in clinics, the lack of vaccinations in their offices has been confusing, she adds.
“They are in the best position to talk to their patients about it and then deliver it,” she said.
Canada’s rollout, which began in mid-December, is well behind several countries in terms of doses administered per population.
Just over 5.3 percent of Canada’s residents had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday afternoon.
However, the recent approval of vaccines from Oxford-AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson is expected to result in Canada’s vaccination schedule expanding in the coming weeks.
Dr. Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious disease expert in Mississauga, Ontario, says the percentage of doctors who reported fatigue and anxiety is alarming that there may be more reasons to be optimistic now than last month when the survey was conducted.
Chakrabarti says he has noticed a shift among his own colleagues towards a “slightly more positive outlook”.
“We know mental health is a big problem with COVID, be it for people in the healthcare sector or for people in the community,” he said. “But what I find interesting now is that we’re in the best position we’ve been in since the pandemic started.”
While Chakrabarti acknowledged legitimate concerns about the adoption of Canada, he fears that some people are “disproportionately stressing the difficulty relative to the good parts.”
“We’re getting good news – Johnson & Johnson (approving) a million doses of vaccines to be delivered this week,” he said. “But then we also hear the constant beating of the drums – a third wave comes, there are variations. This is at the forefront of messaging … and can create anxiety among health professionals and otherwise. “
According to Collins, the most striking result of the survey was that of the 65 percent of respondents who reported increased anxiety, only 16 percent said they had sought help.
“This clearly shows us that we still have some barriers that we need to work on in the area of the health and wellbeing of doctors,” she said.
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