Covid is Not Over – and It Won’t EVER Be

As provinces across Canada begin to lift restrictions from the Covid pandemic, there is a plethora of opinions raging about this. Some physicians feel the restrictions are being lifted too slowly. Others feel that it is just right. In Ontario at least, the most outspoken group are the physicians who demand ongoing restrictions. They have taken to using #Covidisnotover on Twitter.

Obviously, when dealing with a once in a century pandemic that has truly decimated patients and health care workers alike, there are still going to be unknowns going forward. But personally speaking, I think we have to realize a couple of things. First, Covid is not over. Second, and most importantly, it never will be.

Is the flu over? Is HIV over? Heck, are measles and RSV over? The answer to all of those is no. The viruses are still around, they are still infecting people and are mutating all the time (that’s why we need an annual flu shot).

There are always a certain amount of these viruses in the ecosystem. Why would Covid be any different? We are not going to completely eradicate Covid.

Given this – the question becomes, what do we do as a society?

One option, and certainly one that is promoted by the #covidisnotover types, is to continue ongoing restrictions, for much longer. Be it mask mandates, enforced vaccine passports, or continued limits on indoor capacity, the message from them seems to be to keep imposing restrictions for……well, I couldn’t really find consensus on an end date.

The most common argument for continuing restrictions (in Ontario anyway) is the continued positive case load. There are more positive cases than ever before, so why should we stop restrictions now?

Well, the short version is that while it is absolutely true that our case load is higher now than in, say October of 2020, many other factors have changed. In October of 2020, there were no vaccines. There were no oral medications that could help treat those who were infected. Guidance on the fact that Covid is airborne was still (shockingly) lacking.

In comparison, in March of 2022 over 90% of the adult population of Ontario has two covid vaccines, and are well on the way to their third. Evidence is clear that the vaccines are remarkably effective at preventing serious complications of Covid. There is now a strong emphasis on good ventilation as a way to reduce the Covid burden. The government is providing funding for Hepa filters in schools and child care settings. A protocol for rolling out the new oral medications exists, and, like all things, supply of the medications will increase with time.

So to compare just case numbers from October 2020 to March 2022, quite frankly is just comparing apples to oranges. We need to take all these other factors into account.

The other common argument is essentially “Look at Denmark!“. Pro restriction types point to the fact that Denmark lifted all Covid restrictions on February 1st, 2022, and now seems to have an exploding number of cases and mortality. Graphs like the one below are designed to shock people into thinking there is a catastrophe in Denmark:

But the graph doesn’t tell the whole story, and in fact a much more nuanced approach requiring a deep dive into the data is needed. I was going to try but I can’t do a better job of it than Michael Petersen did in his twitter thread:

The short version is that because so many people have Covid now, we need to do a better job of determining who died because of a covid infection (usually a covid pneumonia) vs who died of other causes, but incidentally happened to have Covid at the same time. A better graph showing the Denmark situation (taken from Petersen’s thread) taking this into account is here:

Before people start jumping all over this, let me also point out that I am acutely aware that there is a significant spike in deaths in Denmark recently, even if not specifically caused by Covid. We clearly need to do a deeper dive into why there were excess deaths. But part of that deeper dive must include whether deaths were caused by the restrictions themselves (delayed care, depression and mental health issues leading to people just giving up etc). In essence, is the cure (restrictions) causing more harm than the disease (Covid)?

Look, lockdowns and restrictions were initially necessary. There is good evidence that they helped to blunt the course of Covid. But there is also evidence that they have harmed society as well. The economic impacts with record government deficits that will tax our great grand children are well known. However, there are also other health care impacts.

In Ontario, we have a back log of 20 million health care services, leaving many patients feeling forgotten. There are consequences to delayed care and I have seen that in my own practice, and expect to see much more in the coming year. Yes, those consequences sadly will include deaths.

All of this is before we even consider the collateral damage done to mental health especially in our pediatric population. As Dr. Jetelina points out in her excellent sub stack, there has been a world wide increase in paediatric mental health issues. A 24-31% rise in children presenting with mental health issues and a shocking 69-133% (depending on age group) increase in children presenting with suicidal thoughts to Emergency Departments.

What does all this mean?

My personal feeling is that while we cannot ignore Covid (it’s a bad disease) and we need to continue to encourage vaccinations (they work), we need to start looking at the health care system as a whole. Should we mask in high risk areas? Sure. But should we continue to isolate people socially and restrict interactions in a lower risk population, when that clearly causes other harms? I would argue no.

We have been making decisions for a long time based on Covid numbers alone. There are other illnesses and disease that are out there, many of which have been worsened by the restrictions Covid has forced on us. We need to start basing our health care decisions on what’s best for overall population health, not just Covid.

Governments Should Listen to the Experts and Ease Covid Restrictions

It’s time.

For the past two years, the majority of Canadians have done their part to help combat the greatest health care crisis in a generation. We’ve dutifully worn masks, social distanced, gotten vaccinated and done our part to help protect others.

When the pandemic began (has it been two years already?), very little was known about Covid19 and still less was known about how to treat it. Public Health leaders did their best to provide guidance in an ever changing environment. They got some stuff wrong (remember how we were all initially told not to wear masks ?). But they got more stuff right (the lockdowns did help slow the spread of Covid19).

We all paid a terrible price to fight Covid. Job losses. Economic uncertainty. Decreased social interaction. Mental health impacts on ourselves and most troublingly our children. Delayed medical procedures. The list could go on forever.

Through it all however, was the hope that at some point the pandemic would either end, or change to a more manageable form and we could start to live more normal, if not completely normal lives. I submit that time has come.

In Ontario, we have almost 90% of residents over age 12 who have had two covid vaccines. This would be the number we were told was necessary to achieve herd immunity. I understand that most people need three shots. But the reality is that with Covid being a seasonal virus that seems to mutate regularly, we may need annual booster shots. Surely we won’t keep restrictions forever because we will likely need vaccines forever.

Additionally, we now have new promising medications to treat covid infections. An oral medication that is 90% effective in reducing hospitalizations has been approved by Health Canada, and early distribution to those at highest risk has already begun. I appreciate we need to ramp up production of the medication, and have more of it in stock, but at least we have viable treatment options.

It’s not just this old country doctor saying we need to ease restrictions more. Last week, Ontario’s Chief Medical officer of health himself stated that we needed to re-assess the proof of vaccination process. Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, Dr. Theresa Tam admitted that we needed to get back to some normalcy. Despite the fact that British Columbia had some of the highest Covid related death tolls with the Omicron wave, even their provincial Health Officer, the excellent Dr. Bonnie Henry, signalled that restrictions would be easing.

I would note that throughout the pandemic, there have been calls for all of us to “listen to the experts” and follow their guidance. Well, they are all signalling that it’s time to change the approach and that it’s time to start lifting restrictions.

To be clear, the restrictions should not be lifted all at once. There should be a stepwise approach to lifting them, but that stepwise approach should be relatively rapid now.

The first thing to go should be the Vaccine Passports/Mandates. Before I go further let me be abundantly clear – I strongly urge everyone to get vaccinated (unless you are one of the one in 100,000 people who has a legitimate medical reason not to). The covid vaccines were incredibly effective against the alpha to delta variants of Covid. They are “just” really good against Omicron. However, with even Dr. Moore admitting that the vaccines will not stop transmission of the Omicron variant (but will drastically reduce your risk of getting critically ill from it) the passports/mandates make no sense anymore.

As an aside, my loyal readers (both of them) will remember that I wrote on July 30, 2021 that vaccine mandates were a bad idea and would “embolden hesitancy and create more fear and mistrust.” Look what’s happened. We now have our nation’s capital essentially under siege from a convoy of people who have been further emboldened by these coercive measures. Think there is enough trust there to come to an amicable solution? Particularly in light of Dr. Moore’s comments that transmissibility will not change if vaccinated?

This is in no way meant to support whatever the Ottawa convoy/protest/blockade is calling itself right now. They have frankly lost the moral high ground by not calling out the fringe few among them who are anti-semites, racists and just plain loons. They need to leave Ottawa and go home.

None of that, however, changes the fact that since you can get Omicron from a vaccinated person as well as from an unvaccinated person – there is no point to a vaccine passport. Get rid of it now.

Once that’s done, the next step should be to ensure our health care system goes back to full regular work and then some. We are already severely backlogged, and there is a whole lot of overtime needed to catch up on the delayed medical procedures.

Next (and in short order) capacity needs to be increased at restaurants/arenas/other indoor gatherings. We need to allow many of the businesses who have suffered terribly to start getting back on their feet.

The last step should be to remove mask mandates. Covid is airborne, and as such, masks provide a significant amount of protection. It will likely be a bit longer yet before we can say that Covid 19 is endemic (always circulating in the community at a stable level without fluctuating) as opposed to pandemic (essentially prevalent at a higher level with significant impacts on the health care system). So mask rules should be the last to go.

But make no mistake, the harms of all the other restrictive measures, whether on significantly delayed health care procedures, or enormous effects on government budgets and the economy now clearly outweigh the effects of continued restrictions.

It’s time to start lifting.

For those of you interested in such things I briefly spoke about Covid19 on CTV News and the link is below where I did mention vaccine passports had to go.

CMAJ Disgraces Itself By Publishing Islamophobic Drivel

You know, I really wonder if physicians organizations that claim to “support their members” really understand what that phrase means. Time and time again we’ve seen physicians representative groups fail their members. Now we have the Canadian Medical Association Journal (CMAJ) allow an attack on muslim members published.

I’m talking about the CMAJ decision to publish a letter by Dr. Emil that states categorically that the hijab (a VOLUNTARY head covering worn by some muslim women) is an instrument of oppression:

Seriously, the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, an organization that proudly claims to want to promote diversity and inclusion, that boldly states “diversity is our strength” and has developed background papers in diversity to promote it’s agenda, thought it was a good idea to publish a letter that:

  • claims the hijab is an instrument of oppression
  • conflates the hijab with institutionalized child rape (!)
  • claims that a hijab wearing women wouldn’t be allowed to ride a bike (!!)

The whole letter is simply a series of islamophobic tropes that one would expect to find in alt-right white supremacist type websites. The fact that it was the editor of CMAJ who wrote the headline, only adds to the pain and hurt caused by this whole episode, despite the fact she has since apologized.

I’m forced to wonder, what would have happened if I commented on, say, Orthodox Jewish women, many of who choose to wear wigs to cover their hair? I obviously don’t know the exact religious reasons why but a friend of mine pointed out this link on chabad.org that goes into it in more detail. Now supposing I had written a letter saying that an Orthodox Jewish woman making herself “unavailable by covering her hair” was akin to misogyny/oppression/child abuse etc etc.

Had I said that, I frankly would expect everyone to call me an anti-Semite. And had I written that to a medical journal, I would never expect such a letter to see print.

And that’s the real problem. It shows a double standard that exists within the CMAJ. I would never be able to get a letter full of negative connotations about Jewish/Indigenous/Black/LGBTQS2+/insert minority of choice published in the CMAJ. They would rightfully feel that publishing that would harm a segment of their members and would not be productive to building an inclusive organization.

But a letter (and headline) that blatantly expresses anti-Muslim rhetoric? Apparently that’s ok.

To be clear, this is not really an argument about free speech either. Dr. Emil has a right to his view as distasteful as I find them. He’s free to spout this nonsense whenever he wants and I’m free to think less of him every time he does. Those are our rights as protected by the Canadian Charter.

But, when the journal of a representative organization allows publication of a letter that attacks a segment of their membership, the type of letter that they never would allow if it targeted another segment, well, we have a problem.

Many muslims have been left reeling these past few years by a series of events. An eleven year old girl attacked for wearing a hijab. A pregnant muslim woman attacked by teens who try to rip off her hijab. A spate of attacks against hijab wearing muslim women in Edmonton. The tragic killing of a muslim family in London, in a truck attack where the perpetrator was able to identify the family as muslim (likely because the women were wearing hijabs).

There are many more but you get the point. Hijab wearing muslim women are being attacked repeatedly. As an aside this only increases the tremendous respect I have for those who choose to wear a hijab. To have such strength of faith that you would still wear a hijab, knowing that you might be targeted for an attack, shows courage, resilience and a resolve I find inspiring.

Now, a mere 11 days after a school teacher is removed from her class for wearing a hijab, we have the CMAJ, a journal of an organization that allegedly represents close to 80,000 doctors, refer to that same hijab as “an instrument of oppression.” Seriously, has not anyone at CMAJ ever heard of the phrase “victim-blaming??”

I was going to tell you what I thought, but Danyal Ladha said it much better than I could on twitter:

Having caused such harm, the ball frankly is in CMAJ’s and the CMA’s court. Will they retract the article, issue a full and complete apology, and reach out to groups like the Muslim Medical Association of Canada to learn and educate themselves about how their actions have caused real pain to their members? Or does the vaunted push for diversity and inclusion the CMA is promoting not apply when it comes to muslims?

Time will tell.

Corporatization of Medicine Continues Unabated

Last week, a story came across my feed that seems to have been almost completely ignored by most who are in/or follow medicine and health systems. WELL Health technologies announced that it has purchased 100% of CognisantMD, the developers of the Ocean platform. For those who don’t know, Ocean is a platform that links to various EMRs and allows for securely emailing patients, eReferrals, filling out forms online, and a bunch of other features.

Full disclosure, my practice uses Ocean as well (for now). Personally I find it somewhat clunky and not as smooth as advertised, but there are some positive features to it.

What’s the problem then? It’s a friendly corporate takeover. Happens all the time in the business world.

To understand the concerns, let’s look at what WELL Health does. According to their own website, WELL Health offers a wide array of digital health care solutions. But they also state they are “Canada’s largest outpatient medical clinic owner-operator and leading multi-disciplinary telehealth service provider”. In essence, they run the clinics, and physicians work for them.

A further dive into their strategy, under the “Reinvest” tab states:

“Acquisition of cash generating companies leads to increased cash flows which are re-invested to make additional new cash generating acquisitions.”

Pure and simple – WELL Health is a private, for profit corporation. There is of course, nothing wrong with private corporations. Most people who follow my twitter feed know that I am generally pro-business, and on most issues land on the right side of the political spectrum. I firmly believe we need more, not less, businesses in this country and we need to make it easier for businesses to function.

BUT – acquisitions like these, and the continued take over of clinics by corporations should make us ask legitimate questions about protection of individual health care data. It is no secret that the reasons that companies like Google and Facebook have become so successful is that they found a way to monetize personal data. In much the same way, personal health care data has enormous economic value to companies. Whoever can find a way to properly monetize this, will be the next Jeff Bezos/Mark Zuckerberg and so it’s no wonder that companies are extremely interested in getting into this field.

As I mentioned in a previous blog, Shoppers Drug Mart, for example, recently acquired a stake in Maple, a leading virtual care only provider for $75 million. They continue to advertise on their website (as of Dec 6, 2021) the ability to diagnose strep throat virtually (which personally I find questionable) and then to send antibiotics to a pharmacy near you (I’m guessing there is going to be a Shoppers Drug Mart near you).

Screen shot as of Dec 6, 2021

In a circumstance where a patient contacts Maple, the doctor or NP gets paid to virtually assess a patient, Maple gets a percentage of the fee to cover overhead – which presumably will be reflected in shareholder value to Shoppers. If a prescription gets sent to a Shoppers, well, they make a profit there too. Neat business model.

But it’s not just companies that already have an interest in providing health care related services that are trying to get involved in this field. Amazon is jumping into health care with a telemedicine initiative. Google has long planned to get into health care, and while not terribly successful yet, I doubt they will stop trying. Heck even Uber (!) wants to get involved in health care.

It’s easy to see why everyone wants in. There is a lot of money and potential profit in health care. And while I am all for companies making a profit, that doesn’t mean that we can’t ask some hard questions about the protection of personal health care data such as:

  • How secure is the data that is being held in the servers owned by these corporations?
  • How do we ensure personal health data doesn’t go where it’s not authorized? (eg. supposing the parent company owned a family practice clinic AND an disability insurance company)
  • How do we ensure personal health data is not to be used to monetize other aspects of a business (eg. supposing a walk-in clinic was owned by a pharmacy. A patient attends there for a renewal of cholesterol medications, and then gets ads offering, say, flax seed oil capsules that are helpfully sold by that same pharmacy).
  • How do we ensure aggregate health data housed in those servers is only used to help the community at large (eg. finding communities that may need extra resources for, say opiod addiction).
  • If a physician stops working at a clinic owned by MegaCorp Inc. for whatever reason, how does that physician access their charts after the fact (I’m aware of a number of cases where access to patient records were cut off immediately upon the physician leaving such a clinic).

I’ve just posited a few questions. I’m sure there are many more. I believe that most Canadians strongly value health care privacy. As more and more businesses attempt to get involved in health care delivery, it is vital that we have a framework for oversight that ensures that patients have the absolute right to protect their personal health information. Sadly, I don’t see any organization/government agency out there asking these important questions.

Pharmacies Must Put Corporate Interests Aside to Give Flu Shots

October is just around the corner. Leaves will soon be turning magnificent colours. Pumpkin Spice treats will flow in abundance from many cafe’s. Plans to have a safe Halloween will be afoot. And – the inevitable cry of “when can I get my flu shot?” will be increasingly heard at many physicians offices.

Last year, there was a significant rise in the number of people who got a flu shot. While our flu season was mild last year (likely because of a combination of all the social distancing/mask measures and the higher vaccination rates) – there is concern this season may be more severe. In order to minimize the severity of this years flu season, we need to continue the trend of more people getting flu shots.

But last year was also the year that there was a lot of confusion around flu shots, and the year that the increasing commercialization of flu shots by the corporate head offices of pharmaceutical chains raised big concerns for me.

First, the timing of the flu shot is always going to be key. As I wrote last year, the best time for most of us to get flu shots is in November. The trend for the last few years (see picture below) is for flu season to begin sometime in December and taper off in March.

Thank you Ottawa Public Health for this excellent graph

BUT, the flu shot only starts to work two weeks after you get it, and its effectiveness starts to wear off after a couple of months. Timing is everything with the flu shot, and getting the shot in October is (for most of us) a bad choice. The shot will wear off before flu season is over.

Yet last year, my radio station/twitter feed/even Facebook page had numerous ads from Pharmacies advertising flu shot clinics in October (and buy your groceries at the same time!). This appeared to be driven by a desire to get a “customer” in the store soon rather than what was best from a health perspective (i.e. wait till November).

Additionally, there was all sorts of confusion around the high dose vs the standard dose flu shot last year. I wrote about this last year too. At the end of the day it does not matter which flu shot you get. Just get one! The effective difference between the high dose trivalent (three strain) flu shot and the regular dose three strain flu shot was 0.5%. This difference does not merit the hype around the high dose shot.

Furthermore, in Ontario we had a quadrivalent (four strain) regular strength flu shot. There was no study comparing the high dose three strain vs regular dose four strain shot that I could find. So really, there was no justification for the advertising from pharmacy ads that essentially said “high dose flu shots in stock, come quickly before we run out.”

This year, the choice of flu shots is going to be even more complicated. Have a look at a screen shot of an email I got from my local public health unit:

Six (!) different brands of flu shots covering a variety of strains (3 vs 4) and dosage strengths (high vs low). But again, to be clear, the difference between these are likely minimal. What’s far more important is that people actually get the shot (in November) rather than pick and choose and wait for one.

Yet if history repeats itself (and it seemingly always does), we can once again expect pharmaceutical chains advertising early in October that they have a “high dose” or “extra strength” or “added potency” or whatever shot, but you must book now! Hurry! Before they are all gone! And if you come real soon, you can even get 500 bonus points!

This level of consumer hucksterism has no place in health care. Health care decisions should be made based on evidence, appropriately done studies, and what’s in the best interests of the patient and society. They should not be made based on some marketing guru’s attempts to get people into a store (where conveniently they can get their milk and eggs too).

Most pharmacists I know are good and decent people who want to do what’s best for their patients. I actually applaud their willingness to give flu shots. The easier we can make it for everyone in society to get a flu shot, the better it is for all of us, and the less potential strain there will be on our health care system this winter.

But the corporate head offices that come up with these schemes (seriously, bonus points for get a flu shot??) need to think of what’s best for the health care needs of society first. That means NOT giving flu shots until November and NOT trying to promote one flu vaccine over another in an effort to create perceived demand and drive people to their stores.

Let’s see see if they act in the best interests of society, or in the best interests of their shareholders wallets this year.

The Promise That is Canada

A few years ago, a (now deceased) patient of mine was in the office. He had just come out of hospital and he thanked me for looking after him. He then told me I was the best doctor he ever had. It was a touching moment which I’ve always cherished, and was planning on keeping private. But it’s what he said afterwards that I will be reflecting on this Canada Day.

He went on to tell me a little bit more about his life history. I knew that he had immigrated to Canada from Germany, but really not much else about his youth (he was a very private person). He opened up and told me that when he was sixteen, he was a member of the Hitler Youth of the Nazi Party. He fought in World War 2 for the Nazis, where he was eventually shot and captured by Allied forces.

But he also admitted what must have been some very uncomfortable truths for him to retell. He told me when he was a teenager he believed the propaganda about the Germans being the “master race”. He bought into the anti-semitism at the time. He used to look scornfully at people who weren’t white when he was a teenager as he firmly believed what he had been taught – that people of colour were inferior.

After the war, he had a number of odd jobs and eventually immigrated to Canada. In Canada he saw people of all races and ethnicities living and working, mostly respectfully and peacefully together. He worked with, and for, people of many religions and came to realize the errors of his youth. He realized just how wrong the Nazis were in their beliefs. Eventually, he wound up in my practice and I viewed it as an honour and privilege to care for him in the last stages of his life.

I mention this because this Canada Day is going to be one of the most sober ones I can recall. Many are actually tweeting out that we should #cancelcanadaday in light of the many horrific things we have discovered about ourselves and Canada these last few months.

Hundreds of confirmed unmarked graves of Indigenous children, with likely many thousands more yet to be found. Buried in mass graves without anyone to remember them, or their families to carry out traditional ceremonies to honour their children and share their grief.

An Islamaphobic act of domestic terror against an innocent, hard working family in London, Ontario, robbing Canada of four remarkable people who were contributing to making Canada a better place and a better country. Despite the horror and revulsion we feel at this act, there continue to be ongoing Islamaphobic acts such as a man having his beard forcibly cut off, women targeted for wearing a hijab, and attacks on politicians for just saying we must fight Islamophobia.

Anti-Semetic attacks in Canada continue to increase, such as painting swastikas on synagogues and various forms of harassment and violence. A disturbing rise in anti-Asian hate crime and violence, likely incited by people who initially blamed China for the Covid-19 virus. While it’s true that the Wuhan Lab-Leak theory for Covid19 has gone from the realm of tinfoil conspiracy theorist nonsense, to possible, it is egregiously wrong to blame the Asian-Canadian community that has contributed so much to our culture .

And of course, ongoing racism and marginalization of our Black community, even in medicine continues.

I’m sure I’ve missed many groups, but you get the point. This Canada Day, we are coming to grips with the fact that Canada has many flaws and much room to improve. This is particularly true for immigrants like myself who (still) truly believe that Canada is the best country in the world. To see so many failings exposed in a country you love is heartbreaking.

It is right and just and, well, Canadian to think about how we can make Canada a better country for everyone. We must all continue to strive for decency, fairness, equality and fundamental freedoms for all of us. We must come to a fair solution to recognize how we have harmed the Indigenous people to our national shame.

However, this year on Canada Day, I will think of my patient.

I will think about how despite what has happened this last year, there is likely no other country on this earth where an immigrant from Pakistan could be given an opportunity as a child to work diligently and wind up as a small town family doctor. And where that same immigrant, could wind up with a patient from a time and place that held repugnant views.

Canada gave me an opportunity to succeed if I grasped it. But it also gave my patient an opportunity to learn, to grow as a person, to put aside old biases and hatreds. It gave him a chance to get to know other people, and realize we are all human. It gave us a chance to meet, and yes, to learn from each other.

This year on Canada Day, I will think about my patient…. I will think of my friend. I will think about what he taught me. I will think of what we must reclaim.

I will think about the promise that is Canada.

Tone Deaf CFPC Fails Its Members, Embarrasses Itself

Recently, in what seems to these old eyes to be an insulting, vindictive and offensive move, Canadian Family Physician, the “Official Journal of The College of Family Physicians of Canada (CFPC)”, published a hit piece on Family Doctors that only serves to further demoralize and dishearten a beaten down profession. I cannot fathom the amount of, what at best could be described as political naïveté, and at worst a disconnected Ivory Tower mentality that would be required to write such a venomous attack on those who actually pay money to keep their organization going.

Seriously, what was the CFPC thinking when they okayed Roger Ladouceur’s editorial, titled “Family Medicine is not a Business.”?? (I refuse to link to it as I don’t want it to get any more hits).

Truly, it’s not really an editorial, rather a massive litany of complaints against family physicians, while sarcastically suggesting “surely, it’s just gossip!”

What exactly are evil rotten family doctors doing according to Ladouceur? He suggests the CFPC has “heard stories” about family doctors not seeing patients in person and wondering how they can assess complicated patients. He has “heard stories” about doctors only calling patients at more lucrative times and abandoning patients with high medical needs. He has “heard stories” about family doctors “charging excessive fees” for services not covered by health insurance.

He ends off his purulent missive by blithely stating, “Family Practice is not a business.” Marie (“Let them eat cake”) Antoinette would have been proud of such a comment, dismissively heaped on the approximately 40,000 overworked family doctors in Canada.

There’s a lot to unpack in Ladouceur’s diatribe. First and foremost is the fact that despite extolling the virtues of evidence based medicine, the CFPC allowed an editorial to run that had, well, no evidence to back it up. The whole argument was based on “I have heard stories.” There are no numbers to back it up, no names of offending physicians, no statistics on how widespread these alleged problems are. Just gossip and innuendo based on what he has “heard.”

If you want evidence by the way, I can confirm that the OMA Board was told that based on OHIP billing data over 98% of family doctors in Ontario continued to work after the pandemic was declared. It is true that they are using a mix of virtual and in person visits, but given the need to social distance during these times, a mix is clearly the correct way to proceed.

Furthermore, the banal statement that “Family Medicine is not a business” is simply factually incorrect, and reveals a kind of ignorant, Ivory Tower mentality that shows a complete disconnect from the real world.

Let me be clear about this, I consider myself one of the lucky ones. My family has food on the table. We have a roof over our head. There is no danger of my car being re-possessed. I’m fortunate compared to the average Canadian and am extremely grateful to be in that position.

But while I genuinely enjoy seeing my patients (they’re a great bunch of people), I still have to pay my staff, order supplies, pay rent and utilities, ensure my computers are working properly, get payroll taxes paid, comply with labour legislation etc etc. In short, while we all hate to think about this side of things, Family Medicine has been, and will continue to be a business of some sort. That the CFPC would allow such an obtuse comment by Ladouceur to run, shows a wanton disregard, and, dare I say it, contempt for the many day to day issues that its members face.

Look, no physician likes seeing one of their organizations scold them (and certainly I will always push back when I see this kind of stuff happening), but I really have to wonder just how completely out of touch the CFPC must be to allow this type of berating in the middle of the biggest physician burn out crisis I have ever seen. Prior to the pandemic, 26 % of physicians were clinically burnt out, 34% were suffering from a degree of depression and over 50% reported some symptoms of the burn out. Exactly what do you think has happened to those numbers after the pandemic? Especially with physicians recognizing that even though we seem to be coming out of the pandemic, there is an overwhelming backlog of delayed care to address?

Yet amongst this backdrop, here comes the CFPC, not to try to find ways to support physicians or provide tools to help them be healthy so they can look after their patients better, but to berate, admonish and vilify them as a group. This is supposed to make things better??

The type of evidence free invective Ladouceur ran should never have been given any platform, much less a platform on an organization who’s mission statement includes advocacy on the part of the specialty of Family Medicine. Frankly, I’m embarrassed to be a member of the CFPC, though given the regulatory requirements to maintain my continuing medical education, I can’t resign from it.

If the CFPC really wants to help, they will pull Ladouceur’s screed from their magazine, and apologize to all 40,000 Family Physicians in Canada. Anything less will suggest complicity and sympathy with his views, and will contribute to Family Physicians losing confidence in the CFPC.

Conscience Rights are HUMAN Rights

Last year, I wrote a blog about Conscience Rights.  The motivation for the blog was the concerning move by the Ontario courts to “infringe on doctors’ religious freedoms.

I know, I know, the case dealt with whether physicians (and other health care providers) had the ability to refuse to provide a referral for situations where they conscientiously objected. Currently, the hot topic for this scenario is Medical Assistance in Dying (MAiD). And yes, the headlines simply said the request for an appeal of a lower court decision on granting physicians conscience rights was denied. I also know there was a lot of talk about the right of the patient to determine their own health care (which is of course must be respected).

But in the text of the initial ruling, the courts clearly and unequivocally admitted that they were infringing on doctors’ rights.

I made a Star Trek reference in my last blog on this issue. Hence, one would be appropriate here. It would seem the Ontario Courts were using the logic first uttered by Mr. Spock in Star Trek 2 – The Wrath of Khan:

“Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

But is that really the case here? Will patients be unable to access legal health care services, simply because physicians are able to keep their fundamental human rights? The short answer is no.

In Ontario, for a service such as MAiD, all a patient really has to do is call the MAiD co-ordination service, and they are guaranteed an assessment. A physician who gets a request for this service simply has to give a patient the 1-800 number to call. Heck, patients can even look the number up online and call themselves without asking their own physician.

In short, the service is readily available to those who want it. The needs of the many are not, in any way, shape or form compromised by Conscience Rights legislation. The Ontario Courts have therefore willingly infringed on the rights of a minority, on the basis of a false premise.

Let me also mention the reaction to my last blog on this issue. I had mentioned that in the near future, we would be facing many ethical dilemmas as a society. Not the least of these include new genetic treatments and therapies. Most physicians were supportive of my blog but some expressed concern that brining up genetic advancements was too extreme. One commentator even used the analogy that seemingly all twitter arguments degrade to – “…can’t compare asking for MAID to asking to revisit the Nazi eugenics movement

And yet.

Look what’s happening in the world.

In China, a group of scientists have inserted human brain DNA into monkeys. They state the reason for this is to study conditions like Autism. Jeez, have these people never seen Planet of the Apes????

As Elon Musk dreams of colonizing Mars, scientists are now actively looking at “tweaking” the DNA of people who wish to colonize Mars as a way to protect them from harmful radiation and microgravity. There is even thought being given to merging our DNA with tardigrades (weird microscopic creatures that can seemingly survive anything).

This s all in addition to work that is being done by companies like Neuralink (another Elon Musk organization) to develop brain implants.

Indeed, as Davis Masci pointed out last September:

“But thanks to recent scientific developments in areas such as biotechnology, information technology and nanotechnology, humanity may be on the cusp of an enhancement revolution. In the next two or three decades, people may have the option to change themselves and their children in ways that, up to now, have existed largely in the minds of science fiction writers and creators of comic book superheroes”

These aren’t some weird tabloid, National Enquirer type stories. There are real scientists actively doing this kind of work. The point being that protecting Conscience Rights is not just about MAiD, it’s about ensuring that on a go forward basis, peoples fundamental freedoms are not impugned in what promises to be the most ethically challenging time for science in human history. It’s about ensuring that people do not have to work on or accept for themselves, things that they find morally objectionable.

As a free society, we have always recognized certain inalienable human rights. It’s not just the right to free speech, assembly or vote. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms specifically mentions freedom of conscience and religion (see section 2). This was due in large part to a recognition that a diverse society is a stronger society and in order to protect that diversity, we must protect fundamental freedoms.

That’s where the judges erred last year. By infringing on the rights of a few, stating that by doing so they were protecting the right of many (which as I’ve shown above, isn’t even the case), the judges have damaged our society as whole, and made it easier to take away more rights from more people. They failed to realize that you cannot make a society stronger, or more free, by taking away the rights of a minority. You only increase the possibility of taking away more rights in the future.

As a society, we must be ever watchful for these infringements on our freedoms. To use another Star Trek quote, this time from Captain Jean-Luc Picard (nerd alert – TNG episode “The Drumhead”):

Vigilance. That is the price we continually have to pay.

The REAL Reason NACI Recommends 16 Weeks Between COVID Vaccine Shots

Recently, the National Advisory Council on Immunizations, or NACI, announced that it was reasonable to wait up to sixteen weeks between your Covid-19 vaccination shots. This applies to the three, Health Canada approved, two shot vaccines (Pfizer/BioNtech, Moderna, and AstraZeneca). Canada is the only country in the world to stretch out the interval between shots to four months. The manufacturers of the vaccines continue to suggest three weeks between shots.

This decision was not without controversy. No less than Canada’s chief scientist, Dr. Mona Nemer, called this a “population level experiment.” Multiple other physicians have tweeted concerns about this. Pfizer/BioNtech won’t sign off on this, and I’m not aware of Moderna or AstraZeneca agreeing to this extended interval either.

But NACI is made up of some really smart people as well. They’ve been providing independent and unbiased advice on all vaccines to the Federal government since 1964. No doubt NACI looked at data from countries around the world, and found that in countries like the UK and Israel, the incidence of COVID19 fell dramatically in the general population after just one dose. This was particularly of note in the UK because they had delayed their second shot (to 12 weeks) despite being called reckless by other countries.

So, we have one group of extremely bright and knowledgeable people saying delaying the second shot up to 16 weeks is ok. Another group of extremely bright and knowledgeable people is saying that this is a problem.

Look, I’m just an old country doctor, not a virologist or immunologist or population health specialist or so on. There is no way I could get into an educated discussion about whether going to 16 weeks between shots will be safe and effective or not because my brain is just not big enough to understand all the minutiae around rising and falling antibody levels.

But I’ve been around long enough to have read multiple statements and press releases from bodies like this, and I’ve learned to read between the lines. Here’s what’s really going on, that nobody (including the press) is talking about.

It’s the fourth bullet point in the summary section of NACI’s recommendation:

  • NACI recommends that in the context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply, jurisdictions should maximize the number of individuals benefiting from the first dose of vaccine by extending the interval for the second dose of vaccine up to four months

“The context of limited COVID-19 vaccine supply.” See the reason that NACI felt obliged to have Canada be the only country in the world that extends the interval to 16 weeks, is because Justin Trudeau and the Liberal government have botched the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines. If we had more COVID-19 vaccines, NACI would never have been put in a position of having to explore a population level experiment.

Trudeau has been saying for weeks now that more vaccines are coming. Heck back on Feb 19 he promised a “big lift” of vaccines. But despite all the hyperbole, the simple fact remains that as I write this blog, Canada is 62nd in the world when it comes to delivering COVID-19 vaccines to our population. We’re behind such illustrious world powers like Dominica, Serbia, Estonia and Aguilla to name a few. For a G-7 country, that’s just embarrassing.

Table courtesy of Our World in Data. Shows Canada has immunized only 8 people per 100 as of March 14, 2021)

This source for all the above information is Our World in Data and you can link to the relevant page here. It is updated daily so my comments are based on what I saw as of March 14, 2021.

Is it any wonder that there’s actually a #TrudeauVaccineFailure on Twitter?

Look, I, like you, am acutely aware that the Trudeau government has signed lots of deals with vaccine manufactures to get Canadians the vaccine. But it’s also extremely telling that Trudeau has refused to release the vaccine contracts. These contracts undoubtedly have a delivery schedule in them, so the fact Trudeau won’t let us see them really incriminates his government. It does nothing to dispel the concerns around the competence of how his government handled the vaccine procurement process.

Th main role of a national government is to protect the welfare of its citizens. If Canada had been in the top ten in vaccines procured per capita (surely not unreasonable for a G-7 country), NACI would not have needed to explore a 16 week vaccination interval. And we likely wouldn’t be looking at a third wave in Ontario.

By not procuring COVID-19 vaccines in a more timely manner, the Trudeau Liberals have failed the people of Canada.

Which COVID Vaccine Should You Get?

Me getting the first dose of my Covid-19 Vaccine.

Canada now has 4 different vaccines to help us fight COVID-19, BioNtech/Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson and Johnson. While that’s a (very) good thing, this has led to some inevitable questions about which vaccine is “better” and whether people should wait for one or the other. An email from a friend who questioned the AstraZeneca vaccine inspired me to write this.

First, to re-iterate once again, while is true that all of these vaccines were developed at a rapid pace, the reality is that they all have been thoroughly tested. The shortcuts that were made were made in the bureaucracy, not the human trials. You can read my thoughts on that here, or see my colleague Dr. Greg Rose explain it better here.

There will likely never, ever be a vaccine (of any kind) that is 100 per cent safe (ever), but overall these vaccines are extremely safe for the general population.

The difficult part in sorting out information about the COVID vaccines is two fold. First, there is a whole lot of information that comes out, almost on a daily basis. It’s hard for not just physicians to keep track of it all, but also members of the general public. Second, some of the information that is released is extremely premature, without a full analysis being done. First impressions being lasting impressions, this often times creates an incorrect perception of a vaccine, that is hard to refute later on.

For example, the BioNtech/Pfizer vaccine was initially plagued by concerns that it caused Bell’s palsy (based on a report that 4 people got it after taking the vaccine) and that death was a side effect (based on report in Norway of 33 people over the age of 80 dying after taking the vaccine). It wasn’t until later that a through review showed that the Bell’s palsy issue was actually the same or less than the background rate. Essentially, you would expect about 12 people a year in the vaccine group to get Bell’s palsy anyway, regardless of whether they got the vaccine or not, so the fact that 4 got it didn’t mean it was linked to the vaccine, just that they were going to get it anyway. As for the 33 deaths, turns out that was in keeping with Norways normal death rate for their population of over 80 year olds, so again, not related to the vaccine.

Think of it this way. The most common time to get a heart attack is actually three hours after you wake up. Does this mean eating breakfast causes a heart attack? Of course not. Just because those two things happen close together, doesn’t mean that one caused the other. In statistics this is referred to as “correlation does not imply causation.” Sadly, there is rather a lot of correlation that is brought up about all of these vaccines, and the assumption is made that they are causing problems.

It was initially claimed the Moderna vaccine had more side effects than the BioNtech/Pfizer one. But it was only after studying it more that people realized that these aren’t really side effects, but proof that the vaccine is working. Your second shot of the Moderna vaccine made your immune system mount a response to what it viewed as a foreign body. Thus the muscle aches, fever and headaches that went along with it.

Now most recently there is some sub-optimal information circulating around the AstraZeneca vaccine. First, there was concern that they would not work against certain strains of COVID19, particularly the South African strain. Second is concern about blood clots.

The South African strain issue was particularly overblown. “Only 10% effective” screamed out some headlines. South Africa even stopped using this vaccine as a result. The full story is somewhat different.

Turns out the study that suggested AstraZeneca wouldn’t work against the SouthAfrica variant was very small (2,000 people), and not well done. Further more, what really matters, is preventing deaths, hospitalizations and severe disease and AstraZeneca works for this with the South African strain. Perhaps you may get a mild case of COVID19 (cough, fever, mild muscle aches for a couple of days). But the point of the vaccine is prevention of severe cases and deaths.

Similarly, the blood clot issue again appears to be one of correlation, not causation. The background rate of blood clots in the population would explain the ones found in Europe. Health Canada and Thrombosis Canada is not worried, and you shouldn’t worry either.

So back to the question at hand. Which vaccine should you get? My personal feeling is the J&J one would be the best simply because, logistically it’s much easier. Get one shot and it’s done. The problem with that one is that we have an effete Prime Minister who’s totally botched vaccine procurement for Canadians. There’s a reason #trudeauvaccinefailure is on twitter. Last I checked we are 61st in the world for procurement of vaccines (and for a G-7 country, that’s just embarrassing).

While happily announcing the approval of the J&J vaccine, Trudeau and the Liberals neglected to emphasize the fine print. Namely that the vaccine would likely not start to arrive until the end of April or early May, and that would only be in small amounts. The bulk of this vaccine won’t be in Canada until September.

Of course, right on queue, a few days after boasting about J&J, it was announced there would be production delays. Why the media isn’t talking about the outright incompetence of Trudeau and his government in protecting Canadian lives is beyond me.

Therefore, the best thing you can do is get the first vaccine that you are offered. When you get notified to get your shot, don’t ask which one, just get it. For what matters the most (keeping you out of hospital or dying from COVID19), they all work roughly the same.

I urge you all to do your part, protect yourself, protect others, and let’s get ourselves out of this pandemic, and back to a normal life.

A Great Cause.

As an addendum I would like to encourage all of my readers to consider buying some merchandise from Conquer Covid 19. This all volunteer group did yeoman’s work providing PPE to physicians, health care workers and others in need. Last year they raised $2.4 million and donated around 3 million (!) pieces of PPE.

This year they are selling their extremely boring merchandise (check Ryan Reynolds take on it here) and proceeds will go to LTCfrontline foods, providing hot meals to those workers who are struggling in long term care homes and Call Auntie, an organization that helps Indigenous people navigate issues around COVID19.

Please click here and donate what you can.