New Brunswick's unvaccinated doctors to be suspended at midnight

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New Brunswick's unvaccinated doctors to be suspended at midnight
© David Donnelly/CBC The names of the unvaccinated New Brunswick physicians have not been released.

A handful of New Brunswick doctors will be suspended at midnight tonight for failing to get vaccinated. 

While the exact number isn’t available, it’s fewer than 10, says Dr. Ed Schollenberg, the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. 

Only two of them, he said, are family doctors, but the number of patients affected isn’t known. 

Schollenberg said doctors have to lead by example and also not put their patient’s health in jeopardy. 

“You can’t encourage patients to get vaccinated if you don’t get vaccinated yourself,” he said. 

Schollenberg said both of the province’s health authorities asked doctors over the last few months to provide evidence of vaccination. 

“There was no other way to do it because when doctors get vaccinated, it just looks like any other person getting vaccinated,” he said.

New Brunswick's unvaccinated doctors to be suspended at midnight
© CBC Dr. Ed Schollenberg is the registrar of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick.

Some were vaccinated but hadn’t gotten around to providing proof. Eventually, the list was whittled down to fewer than 10 — all in the Horizon Health Network. None were from Vitalité. 

Schollenberg said all were given sufficient notice that their licences would be suspended if they didn’t get vaccinated. That notice went out last week, and the repercussions take effect on Wednesday. 

Schollenberg said there’s no distinction between doctors who are unvaccinated and those who haven’t produced proof of vaccination. 

“Technically it’s the same thing as far as the hospital is concerned.” 

He said he would have expected those with proof to have produced it by now. 

“So the ones we’re dealing with, as far as we can tell, have not been vaccinated at all.” 

Schollenberg said vaccine-resistant physicians are expressing similar concerns to the general public — and much of it is based on misinformation about the vaccine.

He said the most common reason among doctors is that they believe they have a medical problem which precludes them from safely taking the vaccine. 

Schollenberg said the college discussed notifying the public about the licence suspensions but decided against that. 

He said patients will “find out as soon as they try and make an appointment” whether their doctor has been suspended. 

Letters sent last week to docs on list

On Nov. 22, the Horizon Health Network sent a letter to those doctors who still hadn’t provided proof of vaccination, advising them that their status would be reported to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of New Brunswick. 

The college followed up with a letter the same day, stating that vaccination “is a condition of practice.” Proof of vaccination was requested by Nov. 25 at 4 p.m. 

On Oct. 26, the council agreed to temporarily suspend those on the list, effective at 12:01 a.m. Wednesday. 

“As the College made clear in a newsletter in October, such vaccination is a condition of safe medical practice,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by CBC News.

“Physicians are expected to do nothing which will put patients at any risk. Physicians are also expected to set examples for their patients.”

The letter said physicians also have “a responsibility to advance measures which can contribute to the resolution of this scourge.”

It also warned that, should a doctor seek a licence elsewhere, “we will be obligated to report this as relevant information regarding your licensure in New Brunswick.”

“Horizon Health privileges are also contingent on holding a valid medical licence,” wrote Dr. Ken Gillespie, acting regional chief of staff, in a letter from Horizon. 

“I also reserve the right to proceed with disciplinary action as outlined in the Horizon Health bylaws.” 

The New Brunswick Medical Society has long said that all physicians, and other health-care workers, should be fully vaccinated against COVID-19. 

“Our patients in this province have the right to feel safe and protected when encountering any health-care professional, and that person shouldn’t have any fear or any concerns about their welfare,” said the society’s president, Dr. Mark MacMillan. 

The society also agrees with suspending the medical licence of those who refuse to be vaccinated. 

MacMillan said the number of physicians who have refused is quite low out of the province’s 2,000 doctors. 

“There’s a very, very, very small percentage of individuals [who have] chosen not to proceed with vaccination,” he said. 

“We are responsible for the sickest of the sick patients in this province … therefore, we have an obligation to protect them and to protect ourselves. … We need to continue encouraging vaccination and we encourage all physicians, all health-care workers, and of course, all New Brunswickers in general, to receive a full course of COVID-19 vaccination.”

The Canadian Medical Society has also publicly endorsed mandatory vaccinations for all health-care workers. 

“As health providers, we have a fundamental duty of care towards our patients and the public. There is significant evidence that vaccines are safe and effective and as health professionals who are leading the vaccination campaigns, it is the right call and an appropriate step,” Dr. Ann Collins, CMA president, said in a news release in August. 

Get vaccinated and get reinstated

Schollenberg said the plan is to reinstate physicians once they get vaccinated but he’s not sure that will have much of an effect.  

“Particularly with physicians, you know, once minds are made up, it’s really difficult to move it around.” 

And for a suspended New Brunswick doctor, it may not be as simple as packing up and moving to another province.

Schollenberg said he will be speaking to his provincial counterparts next week to see whether a physician’s vaccination status should be automatically disclosed to the next jurisdiction. 

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