Canada is falling short of the immunization rates needed to protect all Canadians, but the National Institute on Ageing’s (NIA) leadership in advocating for more effective public policies is spurring provincial governments to act.
In February, the NIA launched its report The Underappreciated Burden of Influenza Amongst Canada’s Older Population. And What We Need to Do About It, which recommended that provinces make the influenza vaccine available to all health care professionals and residents in long-term care homes. Since the report’s initial release in February, more provinces are turning this recommendation into public policies to prevent influenza infections and related complications among older adults. Manitoba, Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan are funding the high-dose flu vaccine for all residents of long-term care homes. The high-dose influenza vaccine has been shown to be more effective than the traditional influenza vaccine in higher-risk individuals aged 65 and over. While the report did not specifically recommend that governments make the high-dose vaccine available to long-term care residents, we are pleased to see that residents of long-term care homes will be able to access a vaccine in these three provinces given their greater likelihood of having worse outcomes if they contract influenza.
Influenza remains the 7th leading cause of death in Canada, leading to an average of 3,500 deaths and 12,200 hospitalizations each year. As Dr. Samir Sinha, the NIA’s Director of Health Policy Research, recently discussed on CBC’s The National, an influenza infection can exacerbate existing chronic conditions, leading to increased health complications. Since chronic health conditions are more prevalent in older populations, it is important to their overall health and effective management of chronic health conditions that older adults are protected from influenza. Yet the report highlights that despite the continued efforts of public health outreach campaigns to promote uptake of the seasonal influenza vaccine, older Canadians aged 65-plus remain under-vaccinated.
To help address low vaccination rates, nine provinces are allowing pharmacists to deliver the annual influenza vaccine, which has been shown to increase vaccination rates amongst Canadians.
In order to protect everyone from negative health outcomes associated with influenza, particularly older adults who are at greater risk of influenza-related complications, provinces should ensure the annual vaccine is available and free for every Canadian. Unfortunately, many provinces have still not made the influenza vaccine universally accessible, and others changed their recommendations. Despite most provinces and territories enacting evidence-based policies that make the influenza vaccine universally available, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Quebec remain outliers in Canada where the vaccine is not available to all residents. In Quebec, the vaccine is no longer recommended for healthy adults age 60-74 or for healthy children from 6 months-23 months. They are able to receive the vaccine free of charge if they specifically ask for it.
It is important that health care providers receive the annual influenza vaccine to protect their patients from the virus. However, in Toronto, the Ontario Nurses Association has won against the vaccinate-or-mask policy that was in effect at St. Michael’s Hospital, which required all health care providers to either receive the influenza vaccine or wear a surgical mask when in patient care areas. As a result, the vaccinate-or-mask policies are no longer in effect at any Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN) hospitals. Currently, only about 50% of health care providers across Canada receive the annual influenza vaccine. The NIA’s report highly recommends that all health care providers receive the annual influenza vaccine.
Despite the strong steps some provincial governments have taken to ensure their residents are protected from influenza and its related complications, there are still many things governments can do to better protect all Canadians from influenza and its related complications. The NIA looks forward to all eight of its recommendations being implemented in the development of sound public policies.
About the National Institute on Ageing (NIA)
The National Institute on Ageing (NIA) is a new policy and research centre based at Ryerson University in Toronto. The NIA is dedicated to enhancing successful ageing across the life course. It is unique in its mandate to consider ageing issues from a broad range of important perspectives, including those of financial, physical, psychological, and social wellness. The NIA is also focused on leading cross-disciplinary research to better understand the issues that can lead to the development of evidence-informed actionable insights that can meaningfully contribute towards shaping the innovative policies, practices and products that will be needed to address the multiple challenges and opportunities presented by Canada’s coming of age. The NIA is committed to providing national leadership and promoting a collaborative approach that also seeks to continually establish municipal, provincial, federal and global partnerships with other academic centres, and other ageing-related organizations.
To learn more about the NIA visit our website at http://www.ryerson.ca/nia and follow us on Twitter @RyersonNIA
For more information, contact Allan McKee, Communications Officer, the National Institute on Ageing |Phone: 416-586-4800 ext. 5845 | Email: Allan.McKee@sinaihealthsystem.ca