The last week of April is National Immunization Week. I know this because the provincial government has been targeting ads and promoting various vaccination programs. But what I want to know is what we’re doing to make it easier for families to access these vaccines, so that we can actually increase our vaccination rates.
The national target for immunizations for infectious diseases among pre-school-age children is 95%. According to information shared this week by the C.D. Howe Institute, most provinces are failing to meet this standard. New Brunswick is leading Manitoba and British Columbia (the other provinces with similar tracking data) when it comes to school-aged children who are fully up-to-date with immunizations, with 69% of children beginning school with the suggested shots. (This appears to be a significant drop in NB vaccination numbers over the last decade, based on a provincial government report.)
The report also concludes very few parents in this country are opposed to vaccines in general, stating that only about 2% of the population is anti-vaccine. So why are so many children not getting the recommend vaccinations?
There’s a lot of common sense to the issue. The report shows younger siblings often have lower coverage; schedules get busy and lugging multiples kids to various doctors’ appointments does become a stumbling block for a lot of families. Difficulty accessing vaccination providers outside of the traditional work week hours is also believed to be a barrier for many families. Then there’s the fact parents these days grew up without the immediate threat of these diseases, so the urgency in vaccinations is maybe not as apparent as it was to the previous generation.
There are seven vaccination appointments a New Brunswick child is suggested to have before starting school. The first is easy enough; it’s meant to happen at birth at the hospital. Then there’s the 2 month, 4 month, 6 month, 12 month, 18 month, and 4 year old needles (not to mention the yearly flu shot that’s recommended). I can state from experience that even a family that believes in vaccines and tries to meet the schedule can have some immunizations fall through the cracks.
Perhaps we need to look at programs like the Nova Scotia-based #ItDoesntHaveToHurt initiative, which used social media and the power of parents sharing information to help address pain management for children. We need to keep sharing the stories of New Brunswick children who are falling ill to preventable diseases. We need to keep sharing with anxious new parents how to manage any pain or discomfort that comes with the vaccinations. We need to keep making it easier for care givers to access immunizations, whether that’s increased public health participation, extended hours or special treatment centres, or mobile clinics that combine immunization opportunities with local play groups, car seat checks, and other events that draw parents of young children together.
I also think the little green pieces of paper I carry around to track my children’s immunizations are problematic. I’d like to think I’m at least average when it comes to by ability to keep track of important items; I don’t always have everything in its place, but I usually haven’t lost it, either. But relying on these slips of paper to make it from appointment to appointment, especially if you’re dealing with families who are co-parenting, moving, or dealing with upheaval, is not an ideal process. It’s 2017 – why haven’t we sorted out electronic medical records and a streamlined process for reminding people of things like vaccination schedules? Let’s at least talk about why an often-proposed vaccine registry isn’t up and running. Immunization must continue to be a health priority for us all.
She Said appears Saturdays in the Times & Transcript.