Health care workers who are forgotten on the frontlines

Governor Cuomo showed New York and the world the importance of leadership and communication during a crisis. Ignoring this standard makes the information void surrounding the COVID vaccine roll-out even more upsetting. I represent 150 dedicated pediatric clinicians and over 300 committed nurses, medical assistants, medical receptionists, and support staff who are incredibly disheartened by the lack of information about COVID vaccine for non-hospital front-line workers. My pediatric colleagues share the sadness and anger throughout New York State and across the country. Vaccine delivery is uneven. Local hospitals interpret state laws discrepantly. Hospitals are vaccinating their employees without using a strict set of criteria. Transparency is missing. Information is scarce.

Our pediatric offices are open, as we have been throughout the pandemic. Pediatricians see hundreds of thousands of patients every day- testing for COVID, vaccinating our children, counseling on quarantine, keeping our schools safe, and supporting our families and communities. Some of our patients are too young to wear masks. Many of our patients cry when they are examined, or swabbed, freely sharing their germs. Most of our patients need to be accompanied by an adult, doubling our exposures. We don’t have the luxury to pre-screen all of our patients for covid before we see them, like many hospital-based specialists do. As a matter of fact, we are the ones screening the patients to keep the hospitals safe. Outpatient independent (non-hospital) offices keep patients out of the Emergency Room, allowing our hospitals to focus on those who are sick enough to need them.

We need to know that our clinicians are “on the list” whether or not we are affiliated with a hospital. Our staff is doing much of the actual COVID testing, allowing our overwhelmed doctors to examine and counsel. We need to know that our staff is “on the list,” but no one has asked us who they are, so how can they be? How can high-risk community members know when it will be their turn when we don’t know how many essential workers need the vaccine? Our “hub” hospitals don’t seem to have any information for us, yet they are vaccinating hospital employees who never see patients and don’t enter patient areas.

Two weeks ago, all of health care was in this together. Now there are haves and have-nots, and the feeling is very different. Pediatric rates of infection are climbing. Fortunately, children continue to do well with COVID, but pediatricians and our staff are at real risk. Please respect our risk and our contributions and vaccinate us as soon as the high-risk hospital staff is done. We will wait for our turn, but we need information. Alternatively, send us the vaccine, and we will vaccinate ourselves.

Kerry Fierstein is a pediatrician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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