COVID – We must stay the course

January 7, 2021

Dr. Paul E. Boucher, AMA President

Dear Members:

Last week we welcomed in 2021. While the new year often sparks feelings of hope, I met the new year with a sigh of relief that 2020 was over. There is, of course, the optimism provided by the vaccine, but it is tempered by the prospect of a long year ahead that will involve many challenges related to the ongoing pandemic. The end of the year was difficult for many of us, isolated from family, trying to carry on traditions in new ways and, for many, dealing with the financial burden the pandemic has brought to bear.

In these early days of 2021, we are hoping that Albertans followed the public health restrictions and we are all waiting to see where our case numbers and positivity rates go. As a family with two teenagers, we have had many conversations about the restrictions we face and many a tear has been shed over them. My wife and I have been reinforcing the role restrictions play in keeping everyone safe and the importance of setting an example, not only as a medical family, but also given the office I now hold. Unfortunately, this week has been dominated by the news of high-profile Albertans in government bypassing public health restrictions for their own holiday travel plans and the public frustration and anger that has followed. As community leaders, we should all be setting an example and this news is beyond disappointing.

Public opinion on the public health restrictions has been polarizing and divisive to the point that general compliance often feels tenuous. My fear is that this news sends mixed messages that may lead to fatigue and frustration in our communities. If this translates into carelessness and lack of compliance with ongoing restrictions and public health guidance, there will be consequences for Albertans and our health care system. We must not let this happen. So many Albertans have been sickened and too many have died. This week we were all saddened to hear that members of our extended health care provider family have passed away due to the virus. And just this morning, we also heard the devastating news of the death of a physician due to COVID.

I have issued a statement about this news. The AMA’s Physician and Family Support Program is available for support if you need it, 24/7/365, at 1-877-767-4637. The PFSP team have also suggested providing a link to the Understanding and Processing Grief on the Death of a Colleague webinar. 

Returning to pandemic response in general: In my opinion resilience is one of the most valuable traits we possess as humans. This trait is also applicable to communities. We must be resilient, stay the course and follow the rules. We must support each other and do everything we can to avoid further illness and death. The price of carelessness now is far too high to risk.


The vaccine is key in seeing this through to the other side, but there is still a long journey ahead of us. The province has announced a phased approach to vaccination that focuses first on priority health care workers and those who are at highest risk of severe outcomes. Eligibility will continue to expand as more vaccine arrives in the province.

The AMA and the Alberta College of Family Physicians are in early discussions with Alberta Health Services about upcoming phases of the roll out. We are focusing initially on providing accurate information for physicians in order to answer questions from patients. Many individuals and clinics have reached out to me offering to play a part in the vaccination plan. I am of the opinion that we should be leveraging all our community resources toward this massive undertaking and I very much appreciate these offers. Further information will follow about how physicians may be involved in the roll out.

We need to work with the public and other partners with respect to vaccine hesitancy. The AMA has signed onto an initiative, 19 to Zero, spearheaded by AMA Section of Public Health and Preventive Medicine President, Dr. Jia Hu. The core team is made up of physicians, public health researchers, behavioral economists and creative professionals, supported by a wide partner network to, “engage with and ultimately shift public perceptions around COVID-19 behaviors and vaccination.”

As health care leaders working with vulnerable patients, it is important that we all roll up our own sleeves when we have opportunity to do so. As an ICU physician, I feel fortunate to be an early recipient of the vaccine – even if I feel uncomfortable about being near the front of the line when there are so many at risk. 

Yesterday, we hosted the fourth webinar in our COVID Talks for Docs series. This session provided answers to common and emerging questions from primary care and other generalist physicians (i.e., pediatricians, internal medicine) about the COVID-19 vaccine. If you missed it, you can view the recording on the AMA website.  

Stay safe. Stay well. Stay the course. I will be in touch again soon.

If you’d like to get in touch, you can reach me in the usual ways:

  • Communicate with me privately and directly by email if you would like a reply:  
  • Comment publicly on this President’s Letter on the AMA website (please be aware that comments are public, i.e., not members-only, even if you are logged in as a member). 


Paul E. Boucher, MD, FRCPC
President, Alberta Medical Association

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