Op-ed: B.C. Health critic and Kelowna MLA calls out province's vaccine rollout

Is this the best we can do?

Is this the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out we imagined?

I’m a dreamer, and I love good endings to movies and stories.

I dream of a health care system that’s accessible for everyone. Of a provincial response to the global pandemic that protects our most vulnerable loved ones, and a bright post-pandemic future where we leverage health sector innovations into the future.

But where are the innovations when it comes to the vaccine roll-out in B.C?

While I stand behind the continued hard work of provincial health officials and the public servants in the Ministry of Health, I still have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out and the seeming lack of preparation and clarity from John Horgan and the NDP government that has left people frustrated in the last few weeks.

A central point of concern has been the booking system for vaccine appointments, which this government has had a year to plan. We saw overwhelming frustration when phone lines were overwhelmed on the first day of public vaccine booking, with no online option available to the public. Health authorities across the province have an online booking option for staff vaccine registration available, so why wasn’t a universal online system extended to the public right away?

Health authorities across B.C. are using the same system as Fraser Health to offer online bookings for COVID-19 testing and medical lab appointments. They have used call centres and online registration software for years, yet, after a year of planning these systems weren’t implemented province-wide.

Now here we are, each day learning a new detail wasn’t planned in advance.

Where is the plan to empower our province’s highly trained community pharmacists to join the fight? Only in the last few weeks did we hear they had even been contacted, while other jurisdictions made their plans to engage pharmacists public months ago in their official vaccine rollout strategies.

Is this the best we could prepare for?

Now our province is fortunate to add the AstraZeneca vaccine to its inventory; a vaccine that’s more portable and can be stored in the fridges that pharmacists, family doctors, and nurse practitioners have in their clinics. Yet the province failed to quickly create a clear plan for how our essential workers should be prioritized. Then, they released a list that many feel is incomplete.

Again, is this the best we can do?

I can’t imagine the stress and anxiety our province’s essential workers who were excluded must feel right now. We continue to hear from many excluded workers who are wondering why they were left off the list. They deserve clarity and should have been engaged with from the start with a clear vaccination plan. This government should be honest with them.

We actually wrote to the Minister of Health to ask him to provide transportation workers like bus drivers, taxi drivers, short-haul truckers and longshore workers with greater clarity around why they were not prioritized for a vaccine. Why did this government not engage with these workers from the beginning?

So where do we go from here? I dream of a post-pandemic world where visionary, transformational leadership takes our health care system to the next level.

Dr. Bonnie Henry and the Ministry of Health have done a good job of weathering the pandemic through some of its toughest patches. Real leadership from John Horgan and the NDP, however, has been lacking and we are now paying the price. Our health system needs next-level leadership, not political inaction.

Renee Merrifield

Official Opposition Critic for Health

MLA for Kelowna-Mission

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