Comments from Manitoba officials on unvaccinated COVID-19 ICU patients skew the truth, ICU doctor says

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An intensive care doctor calls Manitoba officials for making what she calls unfair allegations that suggest the province’s intensive care wards are full of people who have chosen not to be vaccinated.

Local ICUs are in trouble as the third wave of the pandemic hits Manitoba. This week, Health Minister Heather Stefanson and Dr. Jazz Atwal, Manitoba’s deputy chief public health officer, released statistics showing that most patients with COVID-19 in intensive care have not been vaccinated against the disease.

The two officials urged people to book vaccine appointments and follow public health orders.

But Dr Kendiss Olafson says they are twisting the situation.

“We don’t see people who are fully vaccinated in our intensive care unit. But… a lot of our ICU patients are young right now and they have only been eligible for vaccines in the very recent past, ”said Olafson.

As of Saturday, 74 Manitobans were in intensive care with COVID-19 and seven more had been transferred to hospitals in Ontario.

Stefanson said Thursday that about 78% of people in intensive care with the disease had not been vaccinated.

The next day, Atwal told reporters that only 16% of intensive care patients admitted from May 1 to May 16 had received a dose of the vaccine. They had tested positive for the disease within two weeks of receiving the vaccine.

No one admitted to intensive care during that time had received two doses of the vaccine, he said.

“What we know right now is that people who have not received the vaccine are at greater risk of getting an infection and having a serious outcome,” he said.

Young Manitobans Didn’t Have Time to Boost Immunity

The third wave had a disproportionate impact on young Manitobans, and more are now suffering severe consequences after contracting COVID-19.

On Saturday, 10 of Manitoba’s intensive care COVID-19 patients were 40 years of age or younger, a spokesperson for Manitoba Shared Health said.

But most young Manitobans were not allowed to make their first vaccination appointment until the last few weeks (although some were eligible earlier by meeting other criteria) and it takes 14 days for the vaccine strengthens immunity.

General vaccine eligibility was open to Manitobans 40 and older on May 7. The younger ones had to wait a little longer to be eligible to make their vaccine appointment. (Tyson Koschik / CBC)

The idea that these serious consequences are caused by people not getting vaccinated implies that young Manitobans delay vaccination or choose not to get the vaccine, Olafson said.

“We did not have enough time to allow all of our population to have access to vaccines and to build immunity,” she said.

Kris Isford, 35, said he had COVID-19 at work a few days before he could make an appointment for the vaccination.

“I was ready to go as soon as I could get it,” he said. “The cards were dealt differently.”

Isford is now in the recovery ward at the Brandon Regional Health Center after spending 12 days in a medically induced coma, unsure if he was going to wake up.

Kris Isford of Brandon, Man., Is now recovering in hospital after spending 12 days in a medically induced coma from COVID-19. (Austin Grabish / CBC)

Isford has gone from tearing down walls to renovating his home to walk 20 paces on a good day. Texting a seated friend is now difficult, he says.

“I’m pretty much relearning life,” Isford said.

“I didn’t break the rules. I followed everything that was required by the government, by my employer. My wife and I have a protocol for when we come home from work.”

ICU needs help

Seven intensive care patients were transferred to Ontario hospitals this week as Manitoba struggles to free up space in its ailing hospitals.

Four more people were due to leave on Saturday, a spokesperson for Shared Health told CBC News.

This is unprecedented, said Dr Anand Kumar, intensive care physician and infectious disease specialist in Winnipeg.

“When you get to the point where you have to move people to another province, it means we’re literally in a rush,” he said.

ICU physician and infectious disease specialist Dr. Anand Kumar says the situation in Manitoba’s ICUs “is political in nature.” (John Woods / The Canadian Press)

This has consequences, including the fact that nurses are forced to treat more patients than usual and sent back to intensive care in other units with only a few weeks of training, Kumar said.

Meanwhile, other experienced intensive care nurses are on leave or leaving due to stress, he said.

If a hospital’s intensive care unit is full of COVID-19 patients, it may need to transfer Manitobans who need non-COVID care to another hospital, he said.

Kumar said it was a “political” situation arising from decisions made by provincial leaders. This includes waiting to implement strict lockdowns until the number of cases reaches a certain level.

And that could have been avoided if Manitoba had taken a similar approach to the Atlantic provinces, where there is strict intervention at the first sign of trouble, he said.

“I’m so sick of the decision making that allows this to happen,” Kumar said.

Premier Brian Pallister on Friday called on the federal government to send health care workers to Manitoba.

Officials in Ottawa have already agreed to send contact tracers and said Pallister’s call for critical care nurses and respiratory therapists should be fulfilled within days.



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