Which is your health target: to see your child vaccinated or visit your doctor? Canada has everyone shot with the active ingredient, just so it can sign up people to get vaccination. Where do you end up falling back on – vaccination or supplement your immune system?
This isn’t a completely effective strategy. It wastes precious resources on boosters if it hasn’t been necessary, and you’re vulnerable to multiple health issues in a short time. We should be increasing our overall effort on reducing vaccine hesitancy by driving individual ownership of the vaccine and making sure it’s safe and readily available.
Where does it end? We are producing more vaccine and pharmaceuticals than we have ever before. In 1978, Canada had four products in the Pharmaceutical Product Evaluation Centre. By 2016, this had grown to 60, including vaccines for cancer and the flu and drugs for hepatitis C and meningitis. This isn’t a trivial change that will ever see health outcomes improve – almost all of the production comes from the public. With so much emphasis on vaccines, public health professionals often focus on gathering this information and data and providing this advice to our medical specialists.
This has unintended consequences. A recent study showed that doctors are not asked when they go to see patients about the vaccinations they have. Doctors forget to remind patients that they can’t skip doses of the vaccine. The young have no reason to believe they need to get vaccinated. But by leaving vaccines off of doctors’ pull lists, they become a hidden target and are at risk for the flu, which in Canada is 90% more likely for young children and is associated with 15,000 deaths each year.
Canadians make a commitment to their health with a medical degree, and Canadians also have a promise to vaccinate. We should invest more energy into this. An easier, more effective approach is to improve the public health education that is delivered to doctors. Canada has a great deal of experience with other nations that use a transparent online portal to help doctors provide education that better informs their patients.
Switzerland offers this online portal called Check-Plus: Swiss Medicinsatien Allgemeinen versindungsverwaltungen (Swiss National Medicines Information System), which collects, tracks and explains all vaccines to doctors. It is active on six of the eight timezones of Switzerland, and is shown every year on TV. In Germany, public education about vaccination is a major part of this country’s work towards universal access and wellbeing. Germany has a vaccine forum that brings together people from the national public health body, hospitals, teachers, industry and others to talk about the vaccine and available services.
Canada should offer a similar exchange. When doctors do discuss vaccines with patients, it should be done in a more comprehensive and functional way, not just with a talk about health, but with an emphasis on the information behind the vaccines that is available. The Citizen Science Program developed by University of Toronto researchers has already shown the potential value of equipping doctors with easy-to-learn teaching materials to explain immunizations, and their benefits to people who have been previously immunized.
When you take it all together, three outcomes become evident: people are immunized. People are satisfied with the information they receive and are less likely to delay their vaccination regimen. And, with better information, it allows people to reach a new decision point where they make a better, more informed decision about their health.