By ALI RAZA, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Beaches-East York MPP Rima Berns-McGown is recovering from COVID-19 after testing positive on March 30.
The NDP MPP received her first shot of the AstraZeneca vaccine several weeks before her positive test, which she credits for reducing her symptoms from serious to mild.
That said, she still says the virus – which doctors believe is a variant of concern (VOC) – “slammed me into the boards.”
She believes she caught the virus at Queen’s Park, as it was the only place she had been in the last two weeks where she was required to remove her mask to speak during Question Period.
Fortunately, the virus did not spread to her family or her coworkers, she said. Her doctor believes it’s largely a result of the first dose of the AstraZeneca vaccine she received.
While vaccinations against COVID-19 are generally administered in two doses, a low supply has forced the province to administer first doses as a priority to reduce the spread and reduce symptoms.
“AstraZeneca works, people should get it,” Berns-McGown said. “It kept me out of the hospital, it did its job, and kept other people from getting it, which is really important.”
As the province goes through its third wave of the virus, with more infectious VOCs in the mix, Berns-McGown reiterated the need to vaccinate essential workers.
“You have people who are going to work, with no choice but to go to work,” she said.
“Most of them are not of the age group to get vaccinated so they’re getting sick, and they’re passing it onto their families.”
Her own family doctor told her almost all of her patients with COVID-19 are essential workers.
St. Joseph’s Healthcare Infectious disease specialist Zain Chagla analyzed data from a spike of cases in March in Toronto and Peel, and concluded that “it’s communities of essential workers” who are more affected.
“If we don’t pivot vaccines and sick day supports here we’re heading back into the same issue over again,” he said in a tweet.
He cited his co-authored research paper in medRxiv in which it outlines the “disproportionate burden” of the COVID-19 VOCs among essential workers in the Greater Toronto Area.
The study showed that VOC cases emerged faster in groups with the lowest incomes and most essential work. The paper concludes that vaccines should be targeted to the highest risk groups.
Mayor of Toronto John Tory, while speaking to CP24 on April 4, said the province needs to prioritize vaccines for “higher risk places of employment” suggesting a proactive approach of bringing vaccines to high-risk neighbourhoods.
The current provincial registration system books appointments by age, leaving essential workers who are young out of the queue.
Michael Garron Hospital’s medical director of critical care Dr. Michael Warner has made repeated cases for protecting essential workers throughout the course of the pandemic.
In the third wave, he reiterates that message again and again in a series of tweets, noting the vaccine distribution strategy must change to protect high risk groups and that workers are given paid sick days.
“Any employees who go to work because they are essential need to be protected, there is no other way,” he said in his latest video on Twitter.
Ali Raza is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Beach Metro News. His reporting is funded by the Government of Canada through its Local Journalism Initiative.