Retired Manitoba dentist, 81, ready to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines

WINNIPEG — A Manitoba woman whose career as a dentist, researcher and scholar has spanned decades is ready to come out of retirement to help people get a vaccine to protect against COVID-19.

In an interview with CTV News Winnipeg outside her home near Gimli, Man., Olva Odlum, 81, said she wants to make sure the province has enough personnel to successfully deliver what’s been described as an unprecedented immunization campaign.

“I think it’s so important to encourage people because there’s going to be a huge shortage of personnel in this program,” said Odlum.

Despite being in an at-risk age group for severe illness from COVID-19, Odlum is raring to get back on the frontlines.

“I was one of the first people in Manitoba to treat AIDS patients because everybody was afraid to do that and I thought, okay, if I can do that, I can do this,” Odlum said.

This past weekend, Odlum applied online for a job to help with Manitoba’s immunization campaign and is now waiting to hear back.

It’s all part of a recruitment drive by the province to find people to help deliver COVID-19 vaccines.

As supply of the vaccine increases, immunizers and other workers will be needed for many months in communities across the province, said a spokesperson for Shared Health.

People with health expertise are being recruited to work as clinic managers, post-immunization observers and immunizers—those who will perform the actual inoculations.

It’s a role Manitoba Dental Association president Dr. Marc Mollot said he and his colleagues want to help with, all while continuing to run their own practices.

“Dentists are experts in infection control and in the provision of injections,” said Mollot. “So as a group they remain focused on the overall health of the community and solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

And it’s not just dentists. Jobs have been posted online seeking physicians, nurses, paramedics and other health professionals including pharmacists and veterinarians.

The postings are also open to former providers and students studying to become a health professional as long as they’ve completed the immunization portion of their training.

Pharmacist Tim Smith said people in his line of work already give flu shots, so administering the COVID-19 vaccine is a natural fit.

“I’ve heard from a number of pharmacists already that they’re interested in or have already begun applying for the positions with Shared Health,” Smith said. “Including my partner who’s a pharmacist, I’m proud to say.”

While busy conducting ultrasounds and performing surgeries on the many cats and dogs that visit her hospital, Dr. Alison Litchfield said veterinarians are excited about the opportunity to use their expertise to help humans.

“I would love to do it. I think the difficult part will be trying to get away from our busy, busy practices,” said Litchfield, who’s also president of the Manitoba Veterinary Medical Association.

She noted veterinarians may be able to fill a unique need in rural areas.

“Sometimes they’re the only health-care practitioner anywhere near some of these smaller areas, and I think that’s going to be a really big boost to getting these vaccines out to those areas,” said Litchfield. “I think veterinarians, including myself, want to be a part of the solution to this issue.”

She said like dentists and pharmacists, veterinarians are familiar with working with vaccines and usually deal with less cooperative patients.

“One, hopefully the patient sits still a little bit more for us, so that’s nice,” said Litchfield. “I think we’d be fairly comfortable.”

Odlum said her family’s been supportive of her plan to help with the immunization campaign.

“They just think here she goes again,” Odlum laughed, describing herself as a bit of a risk taker. “I hope it’s going to encourage younger people.

“Your regular dentist isn’t going to close his or her practice to do this. They may do it on a Saturday or the evening. The same with physicians and nurses—they’re busy as can be. And so, this is an add-on for them.”

Shared Health said so far 191 people have been hired to fill a variety of roles.

Training for eligible professionals surrounding the specifics of the COVID-19 vaccine is being provided through Red River College. The training takes eight hours which includes five hours of online theory and three hours of lab time.

People assigned to work in immunization clinics are in one of the priority groups to get the vaccine.

That group also includes people born on or before Dec. 31, 1970, who work in critical care and people born on or before Dec. 31, 1960, who work in acute or long-term care.  

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