Doctors groups speak out against anti-vaccine protests


TORONTO – Ontario doctors have been harassed by anti-vaccine protesters and the aggression is taking a toll, three prominent medical groups said Friday.

The Canadian Medical Association, Ontario Medical Association and Ontario Hospital Association said demonstrators set up outside hospitals this week to oppose rules compelling people to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

In some cases, the groups said, protesters blocked access to ambulances and other medical services.

“The health-care workers who have worked tirelessly for months on end are being bullied and harassed for doing their jobs. This is wrong and unacceptable – full stop. We are in a health crisis of unprecedented proportions,” the CMA and OMA said in a joint statement Friday.

“In medicine, we rely on scientific facts, evidence and rigorous research. The pandemic has only underscored the importance of these principles. We have contained COVID-19 outbreaks, treated patients, and developed life-saving vaccines.”

The Ontario Hospital Association said it was “truly disheartening” to see this week’s demonstrations unfold.

“By denying the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines they also inflicted moral injury on health-care workers who are working tirelessly on the front lines,” it said.

Ontario’s government this week joined Quebec, Manitoba and British Columbia in announcing a program that will require proof of vaccination to access some non-essential services.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said he didn’t want to introduce the measure, but a slowdown in vaccine uptake coupled with increasing COVID-19 case counts forced his hand.

Polls suggest the measure has widespread support, but medical groups say a vocal minority have made doctors’ lives all the harder.

Health Minister Christine Elliott joined the groups on Friday in voicing support for doctors.

“Health care workers across the province have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to deliver exceptional care to patients, often putting themselves at risk,” she tweeted. “Now more than ever, it is important that we treat each other with compassion and respect.”

Dr. Jennifer Kwan, a family doctor who’s made a name for herself sharing data about the pandemic online, said the misinformation she suspects has led to anti-vaccine sentiment is disheartening.

“I hope that people understand that regardless of protests, that medical providers will still be there to care for them if they do become sick,” she said. “I already have unvaccinated patients — including those who are young and healthy — severely sick and hospitalized due to COVID-19.”

As of Friday, 326 people in Ontario were hospitalized with the virus, according to provincial data, and only 34 of them were fully vaccinated. The data shows 169 people are in intensive care due to COVID-19, including 105 who are on a ventilator.

The province reported 807 more cases of COVID-19 on Friday and seven added deaths. It said 628 of the new diagnoses are in people who are not fully vaccinated, or whose vaccination status isn’t known.

The latest data shows 83.3 per cent of Ontarians aged 12 and up have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, while 76.8 per cent are fully vaccinated.