In Canada, the First Vaccines Depart Well being Staff in Tears of Reduction
TORONTO – During the applause, celebratory elbow kicks and camera flashes, Colette Cameron watched in tears as four of her colleagues were given the country’s first coronavirus vaccinations on Monday. Then she took off her suit jacket to follow them herself.
“It was overwhelming,” said Ms. Cameron, a registered nurse and social worker who runs a nursing home in Toronto, which saw one of the city’s first outbreaks. “I wish everyone could have this support so that no one feels as alone as we do. We were desperate. “
The start of the Canadian vaccination campaign was emotional: the first precious doses went to people in nursing homes: healthcare workers in Toronto and residents in Montreal and Quebec City.
This was the realization that nursing homes in Canada were zeroed in on both the gruesome devastation of Covid-19 and criticism of the country’s lack of preparation for it. More than 460,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in Canada and 13,400 have died from it.
“We have never given out so many Kleenex boxes in the past few days,” said Sue Graham-Nutter, executive director of the Rekai Centers, which operate two nursing homes in Toronto that have received the country’s first vaccinations. “We have the pictures of what happened on the floors.”
Less than a week after Canada became the third country in the world to approve the vaccine developed by the American drug manufacturer Pfizer and a German company, BioNTech, the first delivery arrived at an airport in Montreal on Sunday evening. From there, the boxes of the frozen vials were distributed to kick off the largest vaccination program in the country in 14 locations across most of the country, equipped with special freezers for the vaccine that must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures.
With a relatively small population of just 38 million, Canada has agreed to buy up to 76 million doses from Pfizer and 414 million doses of other potential vaccines from other companies. Anita Anand, Canada’s Minister of Public Services and Procurement, described this as “the most can per capita in any country in the world” at a press conference Monday.
The first vaccinations were a moment of triumph for the Canadian government, and it couldn’t have come at a more welcome time: the virus is raging across the country in its second wave and much of Canada is at a standstill.
By late August, 80 percent of Canadian coronavirus deaths were from nursing homes, which is among the highest rates in the world. At one point the military was sent to nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec to support staff.
For a country that prides itself on socialized health care and a strong social safety net, these deaths have caused a lot of anger and soul searching.
“When I got the call to get the vaccine, I was sobbing and sobbing,” said Samantha Hallgren, a nurse at the Perley and Rideau Veterans’ Health Center in Ottawa who was due to be vaccinated Tuesday.
She was both relieved and overwhelmed by bloody memories of the people she saw die. She spoke of trying to offer comfort and love to patients who have been denied more than a family visitor or a tender, unloved hand.
“You shouldn’t hug and touch,” said Mrs. Hallgren, recalling the death of a veteran that she attended with a colleague. “But we just held him and we both cried.”
Few can really understand what the fight was like if they weren’t in the ring themselves, she said. “There has been so much criticism of nursing homes – people don’t know what it is like,” she said.
In late March, when little was known about the coronavirus, an outbreak struck the first of the Rekai’s two homes, one block apart in downtown Toronto’s urban center. Cases surfaced in the second apartment a week later.
According to Ms. Graham-Nutter, about a third of the 360 employees have not turned up.
One of her co-workers spent nights calling hundreds of former interns desperate for help to feed the remaining workers who were doing double shifts and sleeping in a nearby hotel so as not to infect their families.
Apr. 14, 2020 at 6:45 am ET
“People were scared,” said Ms. Graham-Nutter. “We know what Covid-19 looks like, we’ve seen it, and it’s scary.”
Eventually, the city’s largest hospital network stepped in and dispatched 75 doctors, nurses and psychiatrists to assist Rekai’s staff over a six-week period. Between the two nursing homes, 117 residents and 44 employees tested positive for the virus. Thirty-six residents died.
“This is such an emotional day,” said Ms. Graham-Nutter on Monday, adding that she would never forget the call from the President of the University Health Network and his words: “I hear you need help.”
The military were sent to other nursing homes in Ontario and Quebec treat during the first wave of the virus Basic duties like cleaning and delivering meals to residents.
A graphic account of what Canadian forces found in five houses in Ontario shocked the public: patients left in soiled or no sheets; untrained and overworked staff feeding patients who are lying down or sleeping, causing a person to suffocate; and rooms infested with ants and cockroaches.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called the report “deeply troubling” and in September his government announced that it would both criminalize “those who neglect the elderly they care for” and work with provincial governments to set national standards for nursing homes.
In Quebec, where vaccinations were carried out on Monday in two different nursing homes, 89-year-old Gisèle Lévesque was the first person to get the shot, Premier François Legault said on Twitter.
While Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec City offered vaccinations first, other cities should quickly follow suit, giving priority to workers in hospitals and nursing homes. According to Dr. Howard Njoo, Canada’s deputy chief public health officer, expects the country to have continued care over the next few weeks and has vaccinated around three million people by March.
Ms. Hallgren said she hoped the vaccine would allow her to hug her own mother, who has dementia and was moved to an assisted living apartment during the pandemic. She called the vaccine a “Christmas present”.
Her co-sister, Ms. Cameron, is hoping to see someone she has never met before: her first grandchild, expected to be born in New York City this week.
“That brought tears to my eyes too,” she said. “It’s very special to me.”
Allison Hannaford contributed research from North Bay, Ontario.