How governments, and all of us, can better protect our health and our health systems with one easy action
We all know our provincial healthcare systems are under incredible stress, so it’s vital we try to find relief wherever we can.
Consider this: If there was a way to help prevent some serious illnesses – actually prevent, not just treat or cure – that are a major cause of sickness, hospitalizations and death in Canada every year, shouldn’t we seize on it for all we’re worth?
Pneumococcal disease, including pneumonia, cause thousands of serious illnesses, hospitalizations, and deaths in Canada every year. That’s big toll on our health system and on the health and well-being of older Canadians who are most vulnerable to this disease. But most of them can now be prevented by people, especially those over age 65, getting just one shot of a vaccine to prevent many forms of the illness.
That’s a great return on investment in personal health for the people who get vaccinated and great news for our provincial health systems. Every vaccination is potentially one less serious illness. This was one of the clear lessons from the pandemic.
But Canada is lagging in taking this simple but very effective measure. Canadian public health authorities are striving for a goal of 80% vaccine coverage by Canadians aged 65 and older but the actual rate is just 55%. That means our health system – and not to mention the individuals involved – is barely getting half the benefit it could from this simple preventive measure!
One reason for this is that it seems many Canadians remain unaware of the severity of pneumococcal disease. Among CARP members who recently participated in a survey about pneumococcal vaccines, 71% said they had received the vaccine, which is above the national average but still below the 80% national target. As well, only half (52%) were aware of the severity of these illnesses, recognizing that pneumonia coupled with the flu ranks among the top 10 causes of death for Canadian adults.
Read more about pneumococcal disease here.
The survey also showed that a vast majority of respondents (>90%) want the federal and provincial/territorial governments to fund and encourage greater use of pneumococcal vaccines, including new ones.
We need to ensure there are free and easily accessible adult pneumococcal vaccination programs that include the latest vaccines in all provinces and territories. This is essential to provide the best possible protection and health for older Canadians.
Along with pneumococcal vaccines, there are vaccines also available for other serious diseases that impact older Canadians, such as for respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), shingles and, of course, COVID and influenza.
CARP believes all older Canadians should have equitable access to the best available healthcare. That includes National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) recommended vaccines. Over 94% of CARP members believe the government should fund all NACI recommended vaccines for older adults. Why should older adults in some areas have to pay for what others receive for free elsewhere in Canada. CARP is advocating for provinces and territories to fund and update their adult vaccinations programs with the latest NACI-recommended vaccines and to undertake additional public awareness activities to increase uptake so seniors can enjoy the best possible health and to provide more relief to our overstretched health system.
This is one action governments and Canadians can take where there are no losers, just winners – us and our health systems.