I would like to address the online video promoting false views on the devastating consequences of the pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines in which a College of Medicine Clinical Professor plays a leading role.
I first became aware of this video early yesterday afternoon but due to many obligations including attending last evening’s provincial Physician Town Hall I was unable to review the video until last evening. I must say the 90 minutes spent reviewing it in detail was some of the most distressing time I have spent in the last 18 months of this long and difficult pandemic.
I categorically state that I and the College of Medicine do not endorse the content of the video that questions the very existence and severity of this pandemic and the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines, as well as the many conspiracy theories and assertions cast at many incredible people and valued institutions in our country and around the world.
On behalf of the College of Medicine I sincerely apologize to all those people who have suffered the ravages of this awful disease and those who continue to suffer. I apologize to the families of over 500 people in Saskatchewan who have died from COVID-19.
I am also thinking of all the front-line heath care workers including our medical students and residents, our medical faculty and our partners at the Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) and regret the promulgation of these views by a person associated with the College of Medicine.
To our learners and to the public I want to reassure you that none of this content or the views expressed are part of our curriculum. In fact, the pandemic has taught us the importance of teaching ways in which physicians can effectively counter false information in delivering healthcare in a sensitive and patient centred manner.
I do acknowledge that individuals have the right to express their personal opinions on any topic within certain limitations set by our society and the law. In the context of a university, I want to emphasize the importance of academic freedom for university faculty and the absolute need for the protection of faculty to freely communicate in the areas of their scholarly work. This is particularly important where that scholarly work is supported by recognized credentials and expertise.
In that regard I also am thinking of the credibility of the many qualified and credentialled experts on COVID-19 we have in the College of Medicine and across our entire campus in the fields of Virology, Microbiology, Vaccinology, Epidemiology, Public Health, and Infectious Diseases. Know that the College of Medicine supports and depends on your expertise.
Another area of expertise for which Saskatchewan is increasingly recognized is physician leadership and nearly all of the great physician leaders at the SHA that have led us through this pandemic also have medical faculty appointments in the College of Medicine. I know how disheartening the promotion of false information about COVID-19 must be.
All of these scientists and physician leaders have worked long and hard alongside our learners, physicians and allied healthcare workers over the last 18 months to fight this pandemic by promoting the best evidence and best practices to care for our people and protect this great province. I thank all of you.
At this stage of the pandemic our highest priority must be the vaccination of the vast majority of our population. Yesterday was also the day I received my second dose of the vaccine at the drive-thru at Prairieland Park. I marveled at the dedication, caring, and efficiency of those front-line workers. Thank you. At the College of Medicine, it is incumbent on all of us to promote vaccination to our patients, colleagues, friends, neighbours and the public at large.
In that regard I would like to draw your attention to a few examples of people within our college who have been instrumental in this work with the important proviso to acknowledge there are many, many others doing equally valuable work.
I would like to point out the amazing work on public education by Drs. Cory Neudorf, Nazeem Muhajarine, Alex Wong, Joseph Blondeau and Hassan Masri in endless interviews, public presentations and social media posts. I also acknowledge the amazing work done by the team at Morning Star Lodge, led by Dr. Carrie Bourassa, that has been working since the very beginning of the pandemic to serve Indigenous communities to address misinformation. They and many others at the College of Medicine have consistently provided accurate, reliable, evidence-based information on the pandemic and the vaccines for the public.
In terms of evidence, I would like to recognize Drs. Gary Groot and Bruce Reeder, as well as the USask and SHA librarians, graduate students and many others who have constantly researched in real time the rapidly evolving evidence accumulated by experts around the world to guide our clinicians and decision makers. They are currently embarking on the research to guide the care of people with “long COVID” – a challenge that will be with us for years to come.
I would like to recognize the amazing work done by our Medical Health Officers at the SHA and Dr. Saqib Shahab, our Chief Medical Health Officer, in guiding policy and providing the incredible but challenging day to day work of Public Health in a pandemic. This is what they trained for and hoped never to have to do! These MHOs are members of our Department of Community Health and Epidemiology and teach in our medical doctor program and Public Health and Preventative Medicine residency program.
Our Division of Continuing Medical Education led by Dr Jim Barton has provided an incredibly important role in partnership with the SHA in supporting the Physician Town Halls which have been very popular and instructive, various events and seminars on COVID-19 and the upskilling of 105 physicians to ensure we have all of the physicians the SHA needs to staff emergency rooms, COVID wards and intensive care units.
Finally, while noting I am leaving out many other heroes, I want to emphasize the incredible asset we have in Saskatchewan at the University of Saskatchewan in VIDO, and the ground-breaking work there in vaccinology, including our own COVID-19 vaccine currently in testing.
These people and many others at the College of Medicine and the University of Saskatchewan are the experts in the fields of virology, microbiology, vaccinology, epidemiology, public health, infectious diseases and healthcare leadership. These are the people we will turn to for guidance and expertise as we continue to care for our people through this most challenging time.
Let’s all continue our efforts to promote vaccination in Saskatchewan so that we can all wear that sticker that says, “I STUCK IT TO COVID.”