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North Shore patients shocked to receive anti-vax letter from North Van family doctor

Patients of a North Vancouver GP were surprised to receive a letter informing them she hasn't been vaccinated against COVID-19 and could potentially lose her licence to practice medicine.

Patients of a North Vancouver family doctor say they were shocked to receive a letter from her last week informing them she has not been vaccinated against COVID-19 and therefore may not be able to see patients after the end of March when requirements for doctors to disclose their COVID-19 vaccination status come into effect.

In the letter, Dr. Sofia Bayfield told her patients she is “unable to be vaccinated” for “very legitimate reasons” and it is with a “heavy heart” she is informing them they will likely have to find another doctor.

Bayfield did not detail in the letter why she can’t be vaccinated or whether she has applied for a special medical exemption from the requirement.

The letter also included a number of points about COVID-19 vaccinations, saying vaccines hadn’t prevented “the huge wave of cases and hospitalizations we’ve seen within the last two months,” that most patients admitted to hospital and who died of COVID during the Omicron wave have been vaccinated, and that outbreaks in long-term care homes and hospitals are continuing, despite high vaccination rates.

Bayfield urged her patients unhappy with the vaccine mandate for health professionals to contact the B.C. government, Dr. Bonnie Henry, the province’s health officer, and local MLAs demanding that the decision be changed.

Rhonda Spence is a North Vancouver patient who received the letter on Friday, along with other family members.

'We were shocked'

“We were very shocked,” she said. “And quite upset.”

Spence said Bayfield has been her family doctor for about 15 years, and she’s always found her care to be excellent.

Spence said she had no idea her doctor was opposed to COVID-19 vaccinations or that she hadn’t been vaccinated.

But Spence said she was more disturbed by what she described as the misinformation going out in the letter to vulnerable people. “It’s misinformation and very misleading,” she said. “It’s just cherry-picking bits of information to set up a narrative to justify not being vaccinated,” she said. “It’s basically anti-vax type stuff.”

“She is trying to say that vaccines don’t work effectively, which is simply not true. Anyone who does simple math knows without the vaccines, things would be way worse.”

Spence said she feels put in an awkward position by the letter but plans to let Bayfield know directly that she feels sending the letter was unethical. “Using your position to do what she’s done requires a response,” she said.

Spence said she’s also planning to file a complaint with the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C.

Doctors must report vaccine status by March 31

Last fall, Henry signalled that vaccination against COVID-19 with at least one dose of vaccine would become a requirement of all regulated health-care professions, including doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists, chiropractors, massage therapists naturopaths and physiotherapists. A public announcement followed last month, saying doctors would have to get at least one jab by March 24.

The province announced Monday that health professionals must provide their vaccination status to their colleges by March 31. Monday's announcement did not mention a deadline by which vaccination would be required.

Those who refuse to be vaccinated potentially stand to lose their licence to practise, although exactly how that would happen and whether that would apply to all doctors or just under specific circumstances or in particular regions, hasn't been spelled out. The College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. noted the order issued Monday so far only requires colleges to verify the vaccination status of their members.

Coralynn Gehl is another of Bayfield’s patients who said she was unpleasantly surprised to get the letter.

“I had no idea,” she said. “I assumed all family doctors are vaccinated. This came as a total shock to me.”

Gehl, who has run a Facebook page for North Shore residents to share information about COVID-19 for the past two years, has been an outspoken advocate of vaccination on the North Shore.

Upset by 'anti-vax' tone of letter

Gehl, like Spence, said she was also most upset by the “anti-vax” tone of Bayfield’s letter. “Honestly, I was shocked,” she said.

Gehl said she doesn’t know why Bayfield isn’t vaccinated, but added, “The entire tone of the letter indicates she doesn’t agree with vaccination and doesn’t feel she should be vaccinated.”

“I know a fair number of doctors, personally. And they're all absolutely in favour and proponents of vaccination.” Gehl said Bayfield’s letter will likely just bolster arguments of anti-vaxxers. “People will cling to the fact that there is a doctor who doesn't think that vaccination is helpful or effective, and they'll ignore all of the other doctors who disagree.”

Other clinic doctors support PHO

In a notice on the website of the North Shore Medical Group clinic, where Bayfield practices on Lonsdale Avenue, a statement has been posted announcing, “While we respect Dr. Bayfield’s rights to her opinions, there are consequences. The remaining 11 physicians at North Shore Medical Group do not support the conclusions Dr. Bayfield has reached and we continue, without exception, to support the current scientific medical recommendations and encourage all patients to be vaccinated.”

The statement goes on to say, “We readily comply with all health-care mandates from the provincial health officer”, adding it will be up to B.C.’s college of physicians and surgeons to deal with doctors who do not comply.

The North Shore News attempted to contact Bayfield for a comment about her letter. In response, Bayfield emailed a response stating, "Everything that you need to know is in my letter which I sent to my patients."

The News is also awaiting a response from both the College of Physicians and Surgeons of B.C. and the province about what will happen to doctors who refuse to disclose their vaccination status or disclose that they aren't vaccinated after March 31.

North Van MLAs aware of letter

North Vancouver MLAs Bowinn Ma and Susie Chant both said Monday they had been made aware of Bayfield's letter and that most people so far had voiced concern over the potential loss of their family doctor.

Chant said all health-care professionals were made aware in the fall that the COVID vaccination requirement would be coming. As a registered nurse herself, "I have certain requirements to continue with my registration," she said, which has included staying up to date on vaccinations. "My perception is that if you're going to work with people who are needing health care, I think it is a responsible thing to do to be vaccinated," said Chant.

Ministry responds to 'misinformation'

In response to questions from the North Shore News, the Ministry of Health issued a statement saying "Misinformation continues to be a challenge faced by B.C. and jurisdictions around the world during the pandemic. The ministry has been made aware of a number of medical practitioners in B.C. who have been making false and misleading statements about COVID-19 and vaccinations. When incidents like this are brought to the Ministry’s attention, they are referred to the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC who has been delegated the authority under provincial legislation to govern the practice of their registrants in the public interest."