‘Kids are dying:’ B.C. doctor speaks out over respiratory illness-related deaths

‘Kids are dying:’ B.C. doctor speaks out over respiratory illness-related deaths

A BC doctor is calling for more to be done to protect children from influenza-related illness, which experts say has claimed more lives in recent weeks than typical respiratory virus seasons.

Dr. Sanjiv Gandhi, a clinical professor of surgery at UBC, says in the early stages of the pandemic, the elderly were the most vulnerable but now it’s children who are most at risk.

“I’ve taken care of the sickest of sick children over three decades as a heart surgeon. Seeing them die of respiratory illnesses like influenza is just truly heartbreaking,” Gandhi said.

Click to play video: 'Tridemic: 10 kids dead amid pediatric flu surge, worst still ahead'

Tridemic: 10 kids dead amid pediatric flu surge, worst still ahead

The pediatric cardiac surgeon in Vancouver says recently, he’s had to transition from the operating room to support patients with respiratory illnesses.

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“Kids are dying from this and we just don’t see that in a normal flu year. There are kids requiring very intense forms of life support like ventilators or ECMO heart-lung by-pass machines,” Gandhi told Motorcycle accident toronto today.

Gandhi believes the current crisis affecting children is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, in part because of how various strains of the virus can damage the immune system.

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“The damage to the immune system from COVID-19 is significant. It is not just a respiratory disease. There’s increasing evidence it’s hurting our immune system, not just in the short term, but the long-term, making it much more difficult for our bodies to fight off infections. These kids are suffering from that,” Gandhi said.

In response to six flu-related deaths in children in BC this season, the provincial government announced what it calls an influenza vaccine blitz for kids, and weekly reports on fatalities.

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“I don’t want to be hearing about weekly deaths in kids. If it’s at that stage, we’ve lost the plot here,” Gandhi said, adding, “We’re basically paying the price for pretending this pandemic was over before it was really over.”

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SickKids hospital in Toronto has been operating at above 127 per cent capacity for several days in a row, according to a statement from the hospital. The hospital adds more than half of the patients in intensive care on a ventilator and non-urgent or emergency surgeries are being cancelled.

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During a briefing about respiratory viruses on Wednesday, Quebec’s top doctor urged people to avoid holiday parties if they have COVID-19 on the same day Canada’s top doctor issued a similar message.

“This holiday season let’s do the best we can to make our wishes for health and happiness come true by taking actions to protect ourselves and others,” Dr. Theresa Tam said at a news conference in Ottawa on Wednesday.

Dr. Gandhi is calling for stricter measures to help protect children including easier access to vaccines and more testing in children so doctors like him know what they’re treating.

“When you don’t know what you’re treating, it’s difficult to target therapies like Tamiflu or Paxlovid without that knowledge,” Gandhi said.

He is also calling for a mandatory mask policy for indoor spaces such as mass public transit and schools, which BC health officials and officials across the country remain reluctant to do.

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“The elephant in the room is masks. We have to have an indoor mask mandate. Masks have become a political hotcake rather than being viewed as a personal protective measure. We need to do everything possible to help sick kids, but we aren’t doing it,” Gandhi said.