A Pan-Canadian Immunization Strategy: Giving the Gift of Health

While Canadians remained focused on the sustainability of our health care system, the need for a renewed focus on vaccines and immunization delivery has never been stronger. With our increasingly stretched health care system, prevention needs to be seen as a foundational solution, and a harmonized pan-Canadian immunization strategy across all provinces and territories is an obvious place to start.

The World Bank has stated that immunization should be among the first public health initiatives in which governments around the world invest. Indeed, vaccines are considered to be the most cost-beneficial health intervention and one of the few that systematically demonstrates more benefits than costs by far. Simply put, it is better and cheaper to prevent disease than to treat it.

The economic argument is clear: studies show that every $1 spent on immunizing children with the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine saves $16 in health care costs. That is a return on investment of 1500%

The time has never been better to take action on a truly pan-Canadian immunization strategy. As governments look to the future of health care in this country, key leaders are motivated to include a pan-Canadian immunization strategy. Together, we have an opportunity to inspire change.

A harmonized national immunization strategy, supported by all provinces and territories, will facilitate many improvements to the current system and result in increased efficiencies. The improvements include harmonization of childhood immunization schedules across the country, aligned introduction of new vaccines, and equal access to vaccines across all provinces and territories. The systematic collection of immunization data will also modernize the way jurisdictions communicate patients’ immunization histories and help to ensure coverage rates are high enough throughout the country to best protect Canadians from vaccine-preventable diseases.

Unfortunately, our typically Canadian response, characterized by 13 health care systems instead of one, has resulted in a patchwork of approaches across the country. It simply isn’t right that living in a particular region determines whether you have access to a vaccine recommended by a national panel of experts. Nor should a move from one jurisdiction to another put your child at risk of missing a vaccine because of regional differences in immunization schedules.

We need a system that will allow us to meet age-appropriate vaccine coverage targets to better protect all Canadians.

This is one situation in which Canada could look to the United States for what works. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) sets a national schedule for all 50 states and provides almost immediate funding once recommendations are made to use a particular vaccine. What does this mean? It means nearly seamless delivery of vaccines across the US, an attainable goal for Canada if we put our minds to it.

It’s clear that to realize this vision, ongoing and permanent commitment and funding from all levels of government is necessary.

The ongoing discussions about innovation in health care provide us with the opportunity to engage the entire health system in this conversation. Government officials, public health authorities, health care professionals, vaccine manufacturers and researchers have an opportunity to develop a coordinated, national approach to immunization to ensure equal and fair access while promoting better opportunities for research, vaccine promotion and improved education of health care providers and the general public.

Together, we have an opportunity to promote and drive change as we begin a new era in the health of Canadians. We cannot afford to wait and Canadians deserve it.

By Ian Culbert, Executive Director of the Canadian Public Health Association.


September 4, 2014


Ian Culbert