We are quickly approaching our annual conference, the Family Medicine Summit, held March 5-7. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we will be holding this fully virtually for the first time ever. Our Annual Meeting of Members (AMM), which is usually held in person at the conference, will instead be virtual this year, held the evening of March 25. This will be a particularly special meeting as I transition the Presidency of the ACFP to Dr. Sudha Koppula. I will share some reflections on my time in this role next month leading up to the AMM.
As we emerge from the longest cold snap of the winter so far, it perhaps serves as a metaphor for the pandemic as well. In early December, we witnessed a peak of cases and subsequently increased restrictions. As we start to see a decrease in case numbers, hospitalizations, and the initial relaxing of certain restrictions, we must remember that just as the weather in February can be unpredictable, never knowing when the next cold snap or snowstorm may be on the horizon, so too is COVID-19. The appearance of COVID-19 variants, while still low in number, are starting to show signs of spreading in the province. Even so, we know spring and warmer weather are on the horizon, we also know that vaccinations are coming, and we all see a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel – a hope for a return to some normalcy as the pandemic ends.
The COVID-19 vaccination process has generated much discussion amongst our membership. From our survey of members, over 85% of our colleagues in the province want to be engaged in the vaccination campaign. This could mean being involved in the vaccination administration process, be it using our clinic infrastructure or helping at sites in our communities. The broader participation that will require all of our members is in being a source of information and advocacy for the importance of this as a public health intervention – to protect our patients, our communities and support the reopening of our economy. We are hearing of vaccine hesitancy in different communities around the province. As primary care providers who have long standing relationships with patients and an element of trust in the advice that we provide, we will need to play an important role in addressing this hesitancy and ensuring the success of this important public health endeavor.
A recent announcement between the government and Alberta Medical Association relating to COVID-19 vaccination shifts the conversation in a way that many of our primary care colleagues and health care organizations have hoped. There is a recognition that physicians, including those in the community can play an important role in the vaccination campaign, as well as a recognition of the importance of having these groups vaccinated to protect our ability to continue to deliver health care in our communities. This latter point has been an element of concern raised by some of our colleagues. It is important to recognize that only Phase 1 of the vaccination campaign has been determined, there will be additional priority groups in Phase 2, conversations continue in terms of who needs to be included and why. There is a recognition that primary care represents tens of thousands of points of contact in the system on a daily basis and this will be considered as the vaccination supply improves and additional groups can be added to vaccination eligible lists.
As always, I express great appreciation and admiration for the ongoing work of all of you in the communities across the province that you serve. I assure you we continue to be your voice, representing the needs of the profession and the needs of the system in which we work. It is an honor to be a colleague and to be a representative of the profession in this role. I know the current times have been challenging for all of us. Muhammad Ali once said, “you don’t lose if you get knocked down, you lose if you stay down.”
Both individually and collectively, facing our challenges and moving forward through them will bring strength from experience, we may not recognize it now, but we will when we reflect back in the future.
Wishing you all good health and better times ahead.
Vishal Bhella, MD CCFP
Alberta College of Family Physicians