Alberta doctor pushes for more COVID-19 vaccination opportunities in emergency departments

Alberta Health Services has been providing COVID-19 vaccines to patients who present at the emergency department in rare circumstances, but one doctor is calling for more vaccine coverage at those sites.

Dr. Chuck Wurster, an emergency physician at Strathcona Community Hospital, would like to see more opportunities to vaccinate patients.

“The emergency department is always sort of the canary in the coal mine, so to speak. It tells you how well a system is functioning,” he said.

“If you see patients who are coming through the emergency room despite being in groups that have been targeted for specific vaccination programs and they’re still not vaccinated for whatever reason, the emergency department is still a catch-all place where you can capture patients who may not necessarily have been able to get a vaccine anywhere else.”

Read more: Geographical differences in vaccination coverage prompt call from Alberta doctors to boost uptake

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AHS said patients who present to the emergency department are assessed to determine if they have been immunized and if not, staff can assist them in booking an appointment at a vaccination site.

However, exceptions have been made on rare occasions at the clinician’s discretion.

“Individuals that are well enough and not able to attend an alternate location, including a family physician’s office, pharmacy or community clinic, due to individual circumstances may receive their immunization in the [emergency department], pending available [emergency department] supports, such as staffing and vaccine availability,” read a statement from AHS to Global News.

“These decisions to provide the vaccine in the [emergency department] are made on a case-by-case basis.”

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AHS said clinicians at any emergency department have been able to do this since early May. As of last Tuesday, 26 COVID-19 vaccines had been administered this way.

Wurster said there have been some conversations with AHS about forming a specific program in emergency departments.

“There actually have been some vaccinations performed in emergency departments in our province but certainly not to the extent where we would capture the patients that have fallen through the cracks in our health-care system as well as we would like,” he said.

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