Associate Professor, Department of Family Medicine, University of Ottawa, Member, Immunize Canada
Public health is at the forefront of an amazing global achievement — the development of effective vaccines against COVID-19, a disease that has touched every corner of the world and caused suffering and death. Now that we have access to these vaccines in Canada, they must be administered to reduce severe illness and negative health outcomes. However, the rollout is highlighting a number of challenges.
The lack of equitable access to vaccines within Canada has fuelled anger and frustration in both the public and in primary care providers. Some at high risk of severe disease have been prioritized in the rollout plan, but in the process, we have excluded those who know Canadian communities best: primary care providers such as family physicians, nurse practitioners, and pharmacists who are experts at knowing their own communities and their patients.
To complicate matters, guidance on the administration of the COVID-19 vaccines differs between provinces and territories as well as nationally. Clear guidance is critical for the successful administration of COVID-19 vaccines as we move toward immunizing everyone. The National Advisory Committee on Immunization helps us to understand the vaccines we have to administer, but we need more transparency at all levels or we risk vaccine confidence.
Despite these downfalls, there’s still hope that we can get this right and with the requisite urgency. Until now, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been planned with a vertical style of thinking. It has been controlled to target high- priority groups in a sequenced order. It’s now time to go horizontal.
That means collaborating, including all hands on deck, and sending vaccines and technical support out to multiple levels of primary care providers who are able to vaccinate in all types of settings. People still trust the advice of their primary care provider. Let’s capitalize on that.