Canadian physicians concerned about PPE, access to flu vaccine ahead of second wave: survey

TORONTO — As COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Canada, the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) is raising an alarm about the challenges physicians continue to face ahead of a second wave, including obtaining personal protective equipment and getting access to the flu vaccine.

While there have been improvements in the supply and distribution of PPE, a survey of CMA members found that 54 per cent of physicians continue to encounter procurement challenges.

“We continue to see outbreaks throughout the country and with resurgences of COVID-19 now before us, it’s imperative that governments ensure our front-line workers are protected, not only in hospital settings but also in community practice settings, as they form our first line of defence against this pandemic,” CMA president Dr. Ann Collins said in a press release.

Along with the lack of equipment, physicians expressed further concerns in the survey about the availability of PPE and delays in delivery.

The survey shows that 68 per cent of community-based doctors — those working in offices or walk-in clinics — worry that suppliers will not have sufficient stocks of PPE while 62 per cent expect orders to be delayed.

More than half of those surveyed also said they worry global demand for PPE will hinder Canada’s ability to secure a sufficient supply to help against a second wave of infections.

Despite issues around PPE, three-quarters of physicians believe that the health care system is better prepared to cope with COVID-19 resurgences compared to the first wave.

The survey was conducted between Aug. 19-24 by the CMA, with 1,459 physician members responding.

In addition to concerns around personal protective equipment, the CMA found that Canadian physicians are also worried about getting access to the flu vaccine.

More than 86 per cent of physicians who responded to the survey said they fear that the influenza season will put additional strain on the health care system.

Of physicians who administer the flu vaccine in their practice, 85 per cent said Canada’s health care system needs to build additional capacity to accommodate increased demand for influenza vaccinations this year, with 50 per cent reporting they will not be able to secure enough vaccine doses to meet patient demand.

Fears are mounting among health experts that Canada may experience a so-called “twindemic” consisting of duelling flu and coronavirus outbreaks when cold weather sets in for most of the country.

The Public Health Agency of Canada previously said it expects a higher demand for influenza vaccines amid the combined threat, and is recommending provinces and territories consider alternate ways to deliver immunization programs this season.

“Immunization for influenza is more important than ever this year. We need to avoid a possible twin epidemic of flu and COVID-19 as it can be devastating to patients and our ability to sustain health care delivery,” Collins said in the release.

“We need to focus on greater funding and resourcing of public health to support mass vaccination efforts.”

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