Mon. Dec 6th, 2021

Quebec’s health minister had little choice but to postpone the deadline for suspending unvaccinated doctors, but the frustrating situation shows that our health care system is only as strong as its weakest link.

Article content

Quebec Health Minister Christian Dubé confessed that he has barely slept the last few nights – and on Wednesday it turned out.

Advertising

Article content

The usually ridiculous Dubé behavior was subdued. His heavy eyes dropped. His baritone voice was cruel as he announced the 11-hour extension of a deadline by which Quebec health workers should have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or suspended without pay.

Despite insisting to the bitter end that Quebec would not budge in enforcement of the edict, Dubé backed away. His body language telegraphed this defeat, as well as reflecting the frustrations of the countless vaccinated doctors, nurses, law enforcement, health officials, laboratory technicians, patients, and ordinary Quebecers who had supported the government’s hardline against those who still refuse to roll up their sleeves.

Advertising

Article content

It is disappointing that four percent of health workers, people who should know better, hold out for science and common sense – and hold the health care system hostage to their personal beliefs. And it’s annoying that they get away with it, at least until November 15, the new deadline. (Although, who are we kidding? It is unlikely that mandatory vaccination will be more enforceable in a month from now.)

What had kept the minister nights, he said, ran across the various grim scenarios for the continuity of basic health care if 22,000 unvaccinated health workers were suddenly led out the door.

Dr. Lucie Opatrny, Quebec’s Deputy Minister of Health, listed the dire consequences: 600 emergency beds had to be closed; 35 operating rooms were to be closed; one-third of public nursing homes should reduce their benefits. And so on and so on.

Advertising

Article content

We have already seen maternity wards and emergency rooms in some regions take a break due to staff shortages in recent weeks. It’s hard enough to get started with the backlog of deferred surgeries when 80 out of 470 operating rooms have already gone dark. But we have not seen anything yet.

As Dubé put it, expelling unvaccinated staff would lead Quebec’s health network back to the early days of the pandemic, when so many health workers were absent due to illness or procrastination. Only now would the effects be worse because the system is more fragile, he said. Frontline workers have already been pushed to the brink after 19 months, and patients are already suffering from long delays.

No matter how much he wanted to stay firm, Dubé said it would be “irresponsible” to stick to the deadline. In trying to do the right thing, he now has to do a harder thing.

Advertising

Article content

There is no doubt that Dubé will be attacked by the opposition for this flip-flop. He has lost face with vaccine skeptics by bending out of the high game chicken he has played. He has lost the credibility of health care associations that have thoughtlessly defended the rights of a small stubborn faction of their members at the expense of the well-being of the overwhelming majority.

Worst of all, the government withdrawal will give unbearable anti-vaxxers something to crow about. This victory, pyrrhic as it is, will surely encourage those protesting against masks and vaccine passes at a time when the rest of the public has had almost enough of their antics. That these deniers forced the hand of the Minister of Health is a mark of shame that Dubé will bear.

Advertising

Article content

But that’s not entirely fair.

Dubé is the steward of a health care system that was brought to its knees by the pandemic. COVID-19 revealed all the cracks — including the minimal staff level that causes destruction every time someone calls in sick and results in the kind of inhuman forced overtime that has caused so many nurses to stop. But these weaknesses have been a long time coming, the products of many years of reform and reorganization that eroded the health care system, leaving it vulnerable to the ravages of the crisis at the exact moment we most need it.

This responsibility is shared between successive governments, ministers and parties. That was what vaccinated hesitant health professionals were counting on to get taken over. And it worked.

Advertising

Article content

So let us lay the blame where it belongs: on the selfish and stubborn; those who put others at risk by resisting safe and effective vaccines people who would rather be sanctioned than get a shot that will protect themselves, their loved ones, their colleagues – not to mention their sick patients.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that we are only as strong as our weakest link. And that’s just as true in healthcare as elsewhere.

ahanes@postmedia.com

All our coronavirus related news can always be found at montrealgazette.com/tag/coronavirus.

For information on the vaccine passport, click here .

Sign up for our e-mail newsletter dedicated to local COVID-19 coverage at montrealgazette.com/coronavirusnews.

Help support our local journalism by subscribing to the Montreal Gazette here.

    Advertising

Comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively but civil forum for discussion and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to appear on the site. We ask you to keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications – you will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, which is an update of a comment thread you follow, or if a user you follow comments. Visit our Community Guidelines for more information and details on adjusting your email settings.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *