Dr. Natalie Archer knows that getting herself and her employees vaccinated against COVID-19 won’t solve everything.
But as a dentist who serves more than 7,000 clients across three clinics in Toronto, Archer knows how important it is to do so, and soon.
“Medical appointments are considered essential. To me, that stresses how important it is to prioritize people in medical settings for vaccination… because those are the places we need to keep safest,” she said.
“That includes dentistry.”
Canada is in the first stage of its largest-ever vaccination campaign. The focus so far has been on long-term care facilities and front-line health-care workers.
There is no question that people working in COVID-19 wards, intensive care units, emergency rooms and other hospital settings should get the shots at the earliest, said Archer, but it’s crucial dental professionals be considered a priority in the medical field too.
That includes the whole dental team, from hygienists to assistants to technicians and receptionists.
“The virus is carried in the mouth. It’s carried in the nose. Who else is working so closely with patients day-in and day-out other than oral-care professionals?” she said.
“Everybody else’s patients are in masks. Ours aren’t.”
Dr. Natalie Archer and her colleague tend to a patient in Toronto on Jan. 21, 2021.
Earlier this month, the Ontario Dental Association called on the provincial government to give dental professionals “early access” to the COVID-19 vaccine, emphasizing how the sheer nature of the work puts dentists and hygienists at direct risk of contracting the coronavirus.
The request wasn’t a suggestion to bump anyone else out of line, said Archer. It’s to ensure timely and appropriate access to a health-care industry that, put simply, can’t keep their distance.
“I can’t describe the stress and the due diligence we put into going into work every day,” she said. “We are front-line workers. We were the ones who donated the PPE (personal protective equipment). We get it.”
It is up to each individual province to decide the prioritization of populations for vaccines. The federal recommendations, developed by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) to help guide provinces, identify “key populations” but do not rank them.
Ontario recently identified dentists as part of its first-phase rollout, telling Global News in an email that “all those working for a health care organization,” including a dental office, are considered “part of health care worker prioritization.”
“But we’re not there yet,” said Dr. Caroline Fulop, a dentist working within the Ottawa Hospital.
As it stands, dentists who work within the framework of vaccine distribution to hospitals could be called, but community-based dentists and their staff are still on hold.
“The question we all have right now is, when will dentists actually be up for vaccination? When will we hear? How will we hear? How is it going to go? I think everyone, including our organizations, are waiting for clarity on that. That’s where the anxiety is coming from at this point.”
It’s not clear in other provinces’ vaccination plans either.