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Getting It Right: Vaccine Policies in Dentistry

Posted Jan 24th, 2022 in 2022, the wire, thought leadership

Gary Glassman, DDS, FRCD(C), Chief Dental Officer, dentalcorp; Julian Perez, J.D., SVP, Risk Management & Compliance, dentalcorp

On September 20, 2021, the RCDSO (Ontario’s dental regulator) encouraged all dentists to “support vaccination efforts, model responsible behaviour … and address vaccine hesitancy.” Other provincial dental regulators have recommended that all dentists and dental health care professionals get vaccinated against COVID-19 and, in PEI, the dental regulator went so far as to mandate vaccination. Concurrently, public health authorities have published statements “strongly recommend[ing]” that “employers enact a COVID-19 workplace vaccination policy to protect employees and customers from COVID-19 and the Delta variant.” 

Through the late summer and early fall, like many other professions, the dental world wrestled with whether and how to implement vaccine policies. Questions like “are vaccine policies legal?” and “can we afford to lose an unvaccinated team member?” dominated discussions.  With new variants emerging as fast as the public can learn the Greek alphabet, the management of COVID-19 will remain a priority for months (and even years) to come. This fall, we implemented a vaccination policy across our dentalcorp network. We’d like to share a few of the lessons we have learned.

Vaccine policies do not have to be all or nothing. Vaccine mandates are just one kind of vaccine policy. In our experience, a flexible policy can accomplish many of the same objectives but allow you to work with team members who cannot or choose not to get vaccinated. Offering periodic COVID-19 testing to team members is a very effective way of reducing the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak in your clinic. Other options include asking the unvaccinated to wear heightened PPE, avoid indoor office social gatherings or abide by certain COVID-19 safety measures that may have been dropped by regulatory authorities. Leave wiggle room to dial up or dial down your policy as local risk indicators rise and fall.

Vaccine policies supplement existing COVID-19 safety protocols. The appropriate use of PPE, good ventilation and air filtration, physical distancing, and above all, effective screening of team members and staff remain critical to preventing transmission of respiratory infections. Continue to follow the current public health guidelines and recommendations of local dental regulatory authorities. The view that other COVID-19 safety measures can be eliminated once the team is fully vaccinated can lead to unhappy surprises. We should not forget that, taken together, the safety protocols dental offices put in place were extremely effective at preventing COVID-19 transmission, even before vaccines were available.

Fully vaccinated employees can get COVID-19. Don’t shoot the messenger, but in an office where 19 people are fully vaccinated and one person is not, it’s just as likely that a vaccinated team member tests positive as an unvaccinated one. Breakthrough infections tend to be less severe; however, people with a breakthrough infection can still spread the virus. Further, those who are immunocompromised may not always build adequate levels of protection after a COVID-19 vaccine series. Regardless of vaccine status, those with common symptoms of COVID-19 should not attend the office and should get tested.

Make vaccine policies about safety, not politics. Vaccination remains a difficult topic of conversation for many. Also, vaccine status is personal health information and must be handled as such. In offices where there is only one or a few unvaccinated team members, those individuals may feel targeted by the implementation of a vaccine policy. Putting a vaccine policy in place is about being safe and preventing illness; it’ not about isolating anyone. Another way to frame it is that a vaccine policy is a shield against COVID-19 and not a weapon against employees whose behaviour might be out of step with the office principal or leader. Regardless of how strict your policy is, respect the dignity of everyone.

Originally published in Oral Health journal.

About the Authors

Dr. Glassman will help facilitate the company’s continued growth ambitions and champion programs to support the Practice Community in the delivery of optimal patient care.

Dr. Glassman is a world-renowned Endodontist, full-time practicing dentist, global lecturer, and is on staff at the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry. The author of numerous publications, Dr. Glassman is the Endodontic editor for Oral Health Journal.

He graduated from the University of Toronto, Faculty of Dentistry and was awarded the James B. Willmott Scholarship, the Mosby Scholarship and the George Hare Endodontic Scholarship for proficiency in Endodontics. A graduate of the Endodontology Program at Temple University, he received the Louis I. Grossman Study Club Award for academic and clinical proficiency in Endodontics.

Dr. Glassman serves as Faculty Chair of DC Institute, a continuing education provider that supports the growth and development of dental care professionals through elevated learning experiences.

Julian Perez is the Senior Vice President of Compliance & Risk Management at dentalcorp and is responsible for the development, implementation, and oversight of company-wide standards, programs, and systems to support practices in the delivery of optimal patient care. Julian has a robust legal background having worked for a Wall Street law firm in Manhattan as well as a professional liability program providing malpractice defense to over 10,000 dentists. Julian holds a bachelor’s degree from Yale University and a juris doctorate from Columbia University’s School of Law.

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