The ’90s Called and They Want Their Adult Vaccination Programs Back

Remember the days of rummaging through VHS tapes at Blockbuster or scrambling for change to use the nearest pay phone? Yes, times have changed — but apparently not when it comes to our adult vaccination programs.

 Did you know that in some cases, we’re still using vaccines first approved several decades ago? Just as we now fire up Netflix when we want to watch a movie or pull out our smart phones when we want to call someone, today’s modern vaccines offer huge leaps in improvement over the technologies of the past.

Many of the newest vaccines are more effective and provide more comprehensive coverage than the ones developed decades ago. It’s crucial that our adult vaccination programs keep pace with this innovation.

This will ensure that Canadians have better access to new vaccines that protect against debilitating and potentially deadly conditions such as shingles (herpes zoster), respiratory syncytial virus and pneumococcal disease (pneumonia).

That last one — pneumococcal disease — is particularly misunderstood by many seniors and governments. A recent survey conducted by the Canadian Association of Retired Persons (CARP) found that only about half of the people surveyed knew how serious pneumococcal disease is. Specifically, pneumonia combined with the flu is one of the top 10 causes of death for Canadian adults.

Aside from the devastation it causes to individuals and families, it also represents a massive strain on the health system. To put things in perspective, a study of Ontario health records found nearly 700,000 cases of community-acquired pneumonia over a three-year period, with each hospitalization costing over $12,500. Even those who didn’t need hospitalization cost the system an average of almost $1,600. This makes prevention of this illness through effective rates of adult vaccination even more important. After all, who likes putting their life on hold to recover in hospital?

However, vaccination rates are not where they should be to ensure Canadians and their health systems get maximum benefit.

For example, only about half of Canadians aged 65 and over are vaccinated against pneumococcal disease. Many people don’t even know where to get vaccinated. We need to ensure greater vaccine coverage through better communication to inform people about the value and safety of vaccines, the seriousness of the illnesses they prevent, and how to get them at no cost.

We also need to update our tools. Believe it or not, free public adult vaccination programs of most provinces only provide pneumococcal vaccines approved for use decades ago. The National Immunization Strategy is also over 20 years old and though it’s been refined since then, it hasn’t received a major funding infusion for two decades.

These programs and the national strategy should keep up with the latest technology and provide new vaccines as they are approved and recommended in Canada, including for pneumococcal disease. Some of the newer vaccines offer more comprehensive protection and were specifically developed for the older adult population.

While we’ve come a long way from VHS tapes and pay phones, it’s essential that our health systems keep pace with advancements in medicine.

Canadian governments need to invest to update adult public vaccination programs, including for pneumococcal disease. CARP’s recent survey showed that more than 90% of respondents support this.

It’s time to bring adult vaccination programs back into the 21st century. The cost of inaction — to individuals, families, and health systems — is too great.