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Immune Health

Inclusive Health Care Is Crucial for this Year’s Flu Season

old woman vaccine doctors
old woman vaccine doctors

While Canadians are grappling with increasing COVID-19 cases across the country, during this enervating time many health care workers are already wondering and planning for what the impending influenza season will be like.

The overwhelming focus on health care over the past 18 months has highlighted many health care inequities and disparities across Canada. As a country, we will be remiss if we don’t learn and apply the lessons from COVID-19 vaccine distribution, uptake, and acceptance and apply them to the flu campaign. Specifically, we must focus on the polarizing effects of COVID-19 on Black and Indigenous communities in Canada. Influenza vaccine has traditionally had lower effectiveness than what has been achieved with the current COVID-19 vaccines. With current surveillance systems that don’t track influenza cases with the same clarity and the lack of race-based information, many questions remain.

The minimal influenza season of 2020 to 2021 may leave a higher level of susceptibility in Canadians, further supporting the rationale to get vaccinated. The value of being vaccinated has been well-illustrated in some of Canada’s most vulnerable populations, like long-term care residents. Great work is being done in many jurisdictions to develop equity-centered health care practices that are informed by culturally-safe guidance. In particular, building trusting relationships requires time and patience. Health care workers need to be aware of and acknowledge past traumatic experiences. In a 2012 study researchers reported lower vaccinations rates amongst Black people in Canada compared to other ethnic groups. In 2021, the situation remains unchanged. A recent report from Public Health Ontario highlights the disproportion in COVID-19 cases amongst Black people in Canada compared to the overall population. We have a unique opportunity, right now while Canadians are listening, to offer access to resources, to leverage local successes with COVID-19 vaccine programs to bolster influenza vaccination initiatives, and to build structures that will continue to prioritize the health care needs of Black, Indigenous, and people of colour in Canada. We know that flu vaccinations remain one of the best ways to protect yourself and your loved ones against flu and its potentially serious complications.

The IPAC Canada Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Working Group have collaborated on this article.  

1. Public Health Ontario Learning Exchange: COVID-19 vaccine uptake and equity considerations
2. Public Health Ontario Health Equity and COVID-19
3. Eissa, A., Lofters, A., Akor, N., et al Increasing SARS-CoV2 vaccination rates among Black people in Canada. CMAJ 2021 Aug 9: 193(31): E1220-E1221.
4. Quach, S et al. Influenza vaccination coverage across ethnic groups in Canada. CMAJ 2012 Oct 16: 184(15): 1673-1681.

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