Opinion piece by Susan Delacourt

Opinion: Alberta vaccine rollout plan failing medical radiation technologists

The past year has transformed our lives in very significant and difficult ways.

The loss of friends and family members to the virus, absence of social contact, ever-present fear of getting sick and challenges to our general mental health have made life difficult.

At the beginning of the pandemic, much attention was paid to those whose work involved significant risk. Health-care workers were considered “heroes” and their contributions were regularly recognized. It soon became clear that COVID-19 was not going to disappear quickly and the restrictions we all faced led to “pandemic fatigue.” The focus inevitably and understandably went from acknowledging those working on the front lines to personal survival.

Data and research show that those working in hospitals, clinics, long-term care facilities and other healthcare environments are indeed among those at higher risk of catching the virus and giving it to others. They are not able to work from home, engage in social distancing, or limit contact to small social bubbles. Each day they go home from work wondering if this is the day they could get the virus and bring it home to their families.

Medical Radiation Technologists, or MRTs for short, continue to be some of the most at-risk health-care workers. If you have ever had an X-ray, a CT scan, an MRI, or radiation therapy as part of your cancer treatment, you’ve seen an MRT. You probably did not know they were called MRTs. They know and have come to expect this.

The pandemic has revealed something far more concerning: many in important decision-making roles such as ministers of health, senior policy makers and even those running hospitals also do not who MRTs are and what they do. Which is why MRTs had to fight for access to the protective gear that doctors and nurses were given without a thought. It is also why MRTs were not prioritized in many provincial vaccination rollout plans.

Across Canada, healthcare providers are now receiving their first or second dose of the vaccine. A survey conducted by the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists (CAMRT) recently revealed that vaccines have been given to 90 per cent of MRTs in Manitoba, 80 per cent in British Columbia, and 68 per cent in Ontario have received at least one dose of vaccine.

MRTs are rightly breathing a sigh of relief after a year of relentless pressure and uncertainty. But not in Alberta. In Alberta, the number of MRTs having received a jab is less than five per cent. Yes, you read that correctly: less than five per cent. And yet, most, if not all people confirmed to have COVID-19 have chest x-rays taken by MRTs.

MRTs are in contact with virtually all people testing positive for the novel coronavirus; it is hard to imagine that anyone could argue that this is not a dangerous profession at the moment.

How has the Alberta government not recognized this dangerous oversight? Are Alberta MRTs somehow magically at lower risk than those working in other provinces? Are vulnerable patients less likely to contract COVID-19 from an MRT in Alberta who contracts the virus because they have not been vaccinated? Of course not.

The implementation of the Government of Alberta’s vaccine rollout plan is not working. Front-line professionals with exposure to COVID-19, like MRTs, must be vaccinated now.

I have written to the Minister of Health twice in my capacity as CEO of the CAMRT. I have received no response. The 2,300 MRTs in the province are being overlooked and ignored.

They deserve better. Albertans deserve better.

I sincerely hope that exposing this fact in a public way will catch the minister’s attention and convince his office to take action. Lives depend on it.

Irving Gold is the chief executive officer of the Canadian Association of Medical Radiation Technologists.

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