Home Health Canada fails to vaccinate seniors

Canada fails to vaccinate seniors

Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO, CanAge, Canada’s National Seniors Advocacy Organization

While most Canadians are masked and vaxed against COVID-19, a vocal minority run for cover or spout the carefully crafted propaganda of the “disinformation dozen.” Systems like healthcare, politics, and media (legacy and social) are loaded with the ifs, ands, and buts of COVID theory and practice.

This leaves little room, apparently, for attention to vaccines for seasonal flu, shingles and pneumonia — the “Big 3” preventable illnesses due to the high risk they post to seniors and immunocompromised persons.

This is the conclusion of a report by CanAge, Canada’s National Seniors’ Advocacy Organization. The second edition of their “vaccine report card” rates each province and territory on their efforts to vaccinate older adults.

Bad news, Canada. The average overall score is D (actually D-), unchanged from last year. The report shows glaring gaps across the country that continue to put older peoples’ lives at risk while placing unnecessary burden on the healthcare systems.

“Canada is dismal next to other comparable countries on adult vaccinations, leading to unnecessary illness, productively, and loss of life,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge. “This year we were looking for major improvements, especially in light of lessons learned about the importance of vaccine uptake during the pandemic. Unfortunately, while there are pockets of progress, the national picture is still grim.”

In contrast, the international focus by scientists and governments on the threat of COVID has produced a never-before-seen emphasis on sharing data and best practices.

“At the beginning of the pandemic there were no vaccines. They are already NACI compliant and being put into the arms of Canadians,” says Tamblyn Watts. Even so, older Canadians are neglected. “For COVID, older people need specific vaccines at a higher dose. Only 5% of those in special care homes get these doses. It is a big mess.”

Meanwhile, overall vaccination rates in Canadian adults are historically low, in stark contrast to the much higher rates in children.

“This is despite immunization being recognized as a core component of reducing health care spending and keeping seniors out of hospital where they are at risk of severe health outcomes. The writing is on the wall: improve the way we immunize older Canadians or they will continue to pay with their lives.”

The report assesses each provincial and territorial government on core areas of their immunization programs: vaccine funding, points of access, and public education. While vaccination is under the jurisdiction of provincial and territorial governments, the responsibility to address the shortfalls is shared with the federal government.

“The systems and processes the federal government use to approve, procure, and mobilize vaccines are antiquated and, frankly, embarrassing on the global stage,” says Tamblyn Watts. “Canada needs a COVID-informed approach to adult vaccination. The country needs to focus on purchasing adequate vaccines, ensure coverage for all NACI-recommended vaccines, and make sure people can access those vaccines in their communities.”

NACI is short for Canadian’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization, which covers 20 or so categories of vaccines. COVID is only one.

Major gaps for older Canadians include Tdap vaccines for the flu. Tdap is a combination vaccine that protects against three potentially life-threatening bacterial diseases: tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).

For poor people, only 55% get the pneumonia vaccine. The shingles vaccine is 95% effective, but it is not covered in most provinces and pharmacists can’t administer it. “We can do better.”

Vaccines play an important role in reducing the burdens on the health care system, as well as the lives of Canadians. 

Other key findings:

  • Prince Edward Island scored the highest grade, followed closely by Ontario
  • Nunavut and Quebec scored the lowest grades
  • Yukon was the most improved jurisdiction compared to last year, adding seniors specific flu shots and the recommended shingles vaccine to public coverage
  • Yukon, Ontario, and Prince Edward Island are the only jurisdictions in Canada to fund the recommended shingles vaccine.

CASE STUDY: NOVA SCOTIA

The Government of Nova Scotia scored an overall grade of D-, unchanged from last year, due to persistent problems in vaccine funding and availability.

“The Government of Nova Scotia made some positive moves on adult vaccination this year, including enhancements to how vaccines are promoted to older people and offering seniors-specific flu shots alongside COVID-19 boosters to residents in long-term care,” says Tamblyn Watts. “But it’s incredibly concerning that, with demand for the flu shot at a high, 95% of seniors in the province still have to pay out-of-pocket to get it.” 

The Government of Nova Scotia has not made any improvements this year on funding the recommended vaccines for older adults against seasonal flu, shingles or pneumonia, despite health experts crediting higher immunization rates with reduced health care spending and burden–especially during the pandemic. For the 44% of people over age 50 in the province, this is a serious concern.

JUST THE FACTS

Vaccination involves a virus or bacteria being purposely introduced to an individual, usually through injection, so the person’s immune system to develop resistance to a specific disease. Vaccination is one of the most effective means of preventing infectious diseases and is responsible for the reduction of many diseases including measles and polio, and the complete eradication of smallpox. In Canada, vaccinations have been responsible for an 87 percent decrease in whooping cough and a 99 percent decrease in measles, mumps, rubella and diphtheria. In 2019, 90 percent of children in Canada had been vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella by their second birthday. Rates of influenza immunization among Canadians have fluctuated over the years, with 39 percent of Canadians receiving this vaccination in 2020.

SOURCE: Statista

https://www.statista.com/topics/5216/vaccinations-in-canada/#topicHeader__wrapper/

The 2022 edition of Adult Vaccination in Canada: Cross-Country Report Card is available for download: https://www.canage.ca/work/vaccine-report/

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