The B-building is where many nursing students study and prepare for their future careers. Photo credit: Roberto Iraheta

Medical students studying and working in high-risk areas of hospitals and long-term health care have been included in Phase One of the vaccine rollout, however a decision to make vaccinations mandatory remains unclear.

Currently this term Algonquin College has 461 practical nursing students and 420 Bachelor of Science Nursing students enrolled in placements.

Karen Ball, chair of nursing at Algonquin College, and member of the Eastern Ontario Academic Health Sciences Network Task Force, said health officials have begun to discuss whether this will be something to consider in the future for all healthcare workers.

“They haven’t decided if it’s going to be if you work in long-term care you’re required to have it like they do for the flu shot or if it’s going to be something that you don’t have to have,” said Ball. “But if you don’t have it then you can’t work in certain places. They haven’t figured that out yet.”

The Ottawa Hospital following guidance from the Ministry of Health and Ottawa Public Health, currently oversee the rolling out of vaccinations and administer shots to any medical students who fall under the high-risk category.

The rollout will continue to remain focused towards those considered at highest risk of exposure to COVID-19 until Phase Two, which is set to begin in April 2021.

Those who are currently considered to be high-risk are those in critical care units, emergency departments, COVID-19 medical units, rapid response teams, general internal medicine, and all patient-facing health care workers involved in the COVID-19 response.

“The prioritization is based on risk to the individual,” said Dr. Regis Vaillancourt, director of pharmacy at CHEO and a member of the COVID-19 Task Force.

“They have put the very high-risk units – which are the units that will receive COVID positive patients and everybody who works in that unit to be on high priority to get the vaccine,” said Vaillancourt.

There is also the issue of privacy – another aspect that will need to be reviewed and considered when discussing vaccinations, said Ball.

“There are a lot of legal issues around that and people’s right to refuse. I’m sure there are a lot of very highly paid people right now trying to sort that out,” said Ball.

Currently the Ministry of Health has mapped out a ethical framework for the COVID-19 vaccine distribution following five different principles: Minimizing harm and maximizing benefits, equity, fairness, transparency and legitimacy.

As second-year nursing students prepare for the real world through placement, some feel that vaccines should be mandatory.

“We’re working with the same people that full-time staff are, said Chris Hammar, 27, a second-year nursing student. “Obviously we aren’t there the same amount, but viruses don’t care how long you’re somewhere.”

And as the warmer months approach, many students will spend even more time in health care settings.

“As summer approaches and for us to continue to train and to be the best nurse that we can be and provide our skill set to a vulnerable population – I think the faster we can get vaccinated the better off it’s going to be,” said Hammar.

Ottawa Public Health has received 69,187 doses with 80,540 shots administered to date.