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Canada gets failing grade when it comes to adult vaccination for flu, pneumonia, shingles: report

A national review of Canada’s pace of adult vaccination for non-COVID-19 preventable illnesses such as the flu and shingles for 2021 has found that many provinces are lacking, despite COVID-19 proving robust vaccine efforts are possible.

CanAge, Canada’s National Seniors’ Advocacy Organization released a “report card” grading Canada’s adult vaccination efforts during 2021, a follow-up to their first report in 2020.

The country scored a D- overall, with Prince Edward Island and Ontario being the two best performing provinces, having both received a B.

Newfoundland and Labrador, Nunavut, Nova Scotia and Quebec scored the lowest, with the first two receiving an F while the latter two received D-.

“Last year’s report showed some worrying trends across the country in the area of adult vaccination,” says Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, in a press release. “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.”

To create the grades, the report looked at whether provinces met or exceeded standards set by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), and also looked at funding, access and awareness when it came to vaccines.

Canada performs well in vaccinating children, the report stated, largely due to the ease of school-run vaccine drives. But adult vaccination for common preventable illnesses is lacking.

“Given the newness of the COVID vaccines, the fact that approximately 94 per cent of Canadians aged 60 or more received two doses, and that roughly only 70 per cent (65+) received a flu vaccination in the 2020–2021 season (of which they are reminded year after year), it would appear that the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to older adults was not only successful, but shows what is possible with strong collaborations between the federal and provincial/territorial governments,” the report stated.

The report noted that while the overall score of D- is the same as last year, there have been some changes across the country.

Yukon was the most improved in terms of adult vaccination efforts, going from an F last year to a C this year, having implemented a “high-dose flu seniors-specific vaccine coverage program” and better vaccine awareness.

Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Yukon are also the only provinces or territories to fund the recommended shingles vaccine, the report stated.

The report pointed out that remote population and limited access to in-person medical care makes adult vaccination difficult in regions such as Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, but added that the COVID-19 vaccination efforts in these areas show that with the proper support, it is possible.

Of the two regions that received failing grades, the report pointed out that Newfoundland and Labrador did not meet NACI recommendations for flu, pneumonia or shingles, and that the province did not implement any recommended policy changes from last year’s report.

Given their better resources, regions such as Quebec and B.C. should be achieving better adult vaccination rates, the report pointed out, but while B.C. instituted coverage for the flu vaccine for those aged 18 and over in 2021, both provinces are behind where they should be.

In particular, while B.C. scored high on awareness for vaccines, it scored an F on access to vaccines.

The full report contains more detailed breakdowns for each province in terms of their grade.

Nationally, only four in 10 Canadians who have chronic medical conditions received the flu shot in the 2020/21 flu season.

When it comes to meeting the goals of the National Immunization Strategy, Canada is far from on track, the report stated.

The strategy sets out vaccination goals the country is aiming to reach by 2025.

One of those goals is to achieve 80 per cent of seniors vaccinated for pneumonia by 2025 — but that number currently sits at 55 per cent.

Only 26 per cent of adults aged 18-64 who have underlying medical conditions have been vaccinated against pneumonia.

The report noted that older Indigenous people often face barriers in accessing vaccination, and are a group that should be prioritized in programs that are reaching out to groups about vaccination. Top Stories

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