B.C. doctor blasts province’s flu response


A doctor who works at BC Children’s Hospital says courage is missing from the province’s response to a surge in pediatric hospitalizations due to a trio of respiratory illnesses.


Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi spoke at a joint news conference Monday with BC Green Party Leader Sonia Furstenau, just 90 minutes after B.C. health officials announced plans to launch a “vaccine blitz” this weekend in an effort to protect children during flu season.


The announcement came on the heels of a “code orange” being activated at BC Children’s Hospital on Saturday. While it was only active for 28 minutes, the alert is usually reserved for natural disasters and mass casualty events.


 


DOCTOR URGES B.C. TO MANDATE MASKS


Gandhi, who works there as a pediatric cardiovascular an thoracic surgeon, says that while vaccinations are an important part of the solution, the province should reach for more tools. He added that he normally doesn’t deal with patients with respiratory illnesses, but many have required his support in recent weeks due to the complications those diseases can cause.


“We need mandatory masking in closed indoor spaces, we need mandatory masking in schools,” said Gandhi. “It’s not easy to mandate masks…but sometimes you have to have the courage to do things that may not be universally popular to help those kids that may be most vulnerable.”


While there may be vaccines for COVID-19 and the flu, there isn’t one for the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). That’s why Gandhi thinks public health measures concerning prevention, testing and isolation need to be brought back amid what is being dubbed a tripledemic.


“We have all the tools to change the trajectory of this horrible situation,” Gandhi told reporters Monday. “What we’re lacking is courage from health officials to be transparent about the current situation and mandate the changes that are necessary to prevent more illness and death.”


 


WHAT IS BEING DONE AND WHY?


Furstenau called for greater transparency from public health officials, pointing to the findings of an independent review of B.C.’s COVID-19 response, which was released Friday.


“People aren’t being given access to the research that is informing their decisions,” said Furstenau. “I had hoped to see something more from (health officials) than what we’ve heard for weeks which is ‘get vaccinated.’”


Health Minister Adrian Dix said the province has taken a series of actions to prepare the health system for a surge in pediatric hospitalizations since the last public health briefing on Nov. 16.


Those efforts include bringing pediatricians to work in the emergency room at Victoria General Hospital, and the activation of BC Childrens’ emergency satellite clinic from now until next March. Next week, Surrey Memorial Hospital will have a new process for redirecting patients from its strained emergency department to the city’s urgent and primary care centres.


In addition, children and youth in White Rock and South Surrey will be able to access a rapid care clinic at Peace Arch Hospital.


“One of the differences we’ve seen is in 2020 and 2021, we had a relatively mild influenza seasons and that has a significant effect on people getting flu shots,” Dix said.


 


NO MANDATES COMING


B.C. health officials faced questions during Monday’s update over their decision not to reintroduce mask or mandates or set up flu and COVID-19 vaccine clinics at schools.


Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry emphasized that it’s unclear whether those measures would be effective, since schools are not the only setting where respiratory viruses are transmitted.


“We have to balance risk and the measures that we have that can help prevent transmission that don’t interfere with all of those important social activities that especially children need, but we all need in our communities,” Henry said.


On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also spoke to the rise in respiratory illnesses among children, and the strain that’s putting on the country’s struggling health care system.


Trudeau is urging Canadians to get vaccinated against both COVID-19 and influenza and says officials will consider the advice of public health authorities when it comes to measures like mandatory masks.


He says it’s everyone responsibility to “step up again” to get vaccinated and keep their families and communities safe from what could also be a resurgence of COVID-19.


With files from The Canadian Press