Haldimand-Norfolk’s acting medical officer of health is under scrutiny after revealing his stance on Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine for children five to 11 during a regular media call on Monday and through some social media posts.
The region’s top doc recited passages during his Nov. 22 media op from Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) statement which recommended a complete series of shots “may be offered” to children that do not show side effects to the vaccine.
Strauss elaborated on the committee’s differentiation between a “strong advisory” and “discretionary advisory” and followed it up with his thoughts on the benefits and risks of a child getting the shot.
“To me, it’s a clear statement. It means that individual risks, individual families, parents and children, will have to consider what their values are, what the risks are and what the likely benefits are,” Strauss told reporters.
“If that’s not immediately clear to them, they should discuss it with the health care provider that they trust. I cannot make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met.”
Strauss’s stance caught the attention of several in the health community that began to weigh in on social media including the Ontario Liberal’s health critic who once again called on the provincial government to remove Strauss.
“Premier @fordnation & the Chief Medical Officer must step in to remove Haldimand-Norfolk Medical Officer Dr. Strauss as his recent comments sow unnecessary doubt & undermine public confidence,” Fraser said in a post on Tuesday.
#COVID19 vaccines are proven to be safe and effective for children.
Premier @fordnation & the Chief Medical Officer must step in to remove Haldimand-Norfolk Medical Officer Dr. Strauss as his recent comments sow unnecessary doubt & undermine public confidence. https://t.co/dd5phnEKfG
— John Fraser (@JohnFraserOS) November 23, 2021
Tom Closson, former president of the Ontario Hospital Association, also had something to say, suggesting Strauss should not be a municipal medical officer.
“He is giving advice to parents that will endanger children,” Closson tweeted.
— tom closson (@trclosson) November 23, 2021
Toronto ER physician Dr. Raghu Venugopal retorted on Twitter: “I CAN make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met.”
I CAN “make a blanket recommendation for children that I have never met” – get vaccinated for your health, your family’s health and for the health of the public you are part of. @strauss_matt https://t.co/NLfuFknnRQ
— Raghu Venugopal MD (@raghu_venugopal) November 23, 2021
Strauss explained during follow-up questions in the media briefing that his views were tied to NACI’s statement weighing bad outcomes with COVID-19 in children balanced with safety risks of taking a new vaccine.
“I believe NACI believes that it makes sense to take these risk factors of an individual patient into account when counselling and making a decision,” Strauss said.
“And lastly, I agree with the statement that the vaccines are safe. The question — when every new medication is or therapy is improved, approved in children — the question is how safe?”
Clinical trial data reported by NACI revealed the final two phases of the pediatric formulation involving 2,268 children produced “a good immune response” in 1,517 children aged five to 11 with an efficacy estimated at 90.7 per cent.
The recommendation also found little in serious safety concerns but did suggest the size of the trial “would not detect rare or very rare adverse events that may occur at a frequency less often than 1 in 1,000 people.”
“So obviously, that doesn’t mean there couldn’t be some sort of one-in-10,000 or one-in-100,000 risk,” Strauss said.
“And (it) actually includes, in their statement, the fact that they will continue to monitor looking for one in a million risks.”
Strauss later would say his advice was based on the NACI recommendations and admitted his medical experience was more as an intensive care (ICU) physician, not pediatrics.
Earlier in 2021, the Liberal’s Fraser targeted Strauss’s appointment as AMOH in Haldimand-Norfolk based on a series of statements opposing COVID-19 lockdowns on social media.
The issue became contentious when Fraser called for a veto of Strauss’s appointment, suggesting he opposed “life-saving public health measures” amid the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Ontario’s new associate medical officer of health is set to lend additional resources to begin an aggressive case and contact management campaign for Haldimand-Norfolk’s Health Unit (HNHU) which continues to fight off marked increases in COVID-19 cases across the region.
Strauss said the aid comes following a dialogue with Dr. Wajid Ahmed who will be allocating teleconferencing staffers amid active cases doubling in the last two weeks.
The region reported 119 active as of Wednesday.
The two counties combined have a seven-day rolling case average of 13.15, a significant increase from the 6.9 two weeks ago and 3.4 four weeks ago.
There are 11 COVID-19 hospitalizations in the region with the Haldimand War Memorial hospital outbreak connected to nine cases. Seven people are in ICUs with COVID-19.
The region has had five deaths in the past six weeks, including four unvaccinated individuals.
Over 85 per cent of residents have been fully vaccinated as of Nov. 24, while 88 per cent have had at least one shot of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The region is on par with the province’s two-dose rate, which is 86.1 per cent of the eligible (12 and older) population as of Wednesday. First dose coverage stands at 89 per cent in Ontario.
The HNHU is behind 23 other health units in the province’s ranking of two-dose vaccination rates.
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