Wednesday, September 28, 2022

What Newfoundland can teach the rest of Canada about vaccinating children

What Newfoundland can teach the rest of Canada about vaccinating children

Dr. Janice Fitzgerald, chief medical officer of health for Newfoundland and Labrador, administers the COVID-19 vaccine to 11-year-old Keira O’Keefe on November 25, 2021 in St. Johns, NL.Paul Daly/The Canadian Press

In Bonavista, a town of about 3,500 on a flat, rocky plain on the northeast coast of Newfoundland, people packed into the Lions Club for bingo tournaments. Lately, they’ve been lining up to get into the building for something else – the COVID-19 vaccination.

Nicole Abbott, a local mother of two boys, says the opening for children’s doses inside Hall’s mass vaccination clinic is the hottest ticket in town.

“As soon as an appointment goes up, they get booked up immediately,” she said. “And when there’s an extra space, they let you know right away, so you can grab it.”

When it comes to administering coronavirus vaccines to children, no province comes close to Newfoundland and Labrador. It leads the country, with about 75 percent of children ages 5 to 11 being at least partially vaccinated, well above the national average, and nearly twice the rate of provinces such as Alberta.

Even in Bonavista, where the worst of COVID-19 seems far away, people are doing their duty to vaccinate their children. Ms Abbott says it has a lot to do with trust. In smaller towns in this province, parents have a lot of trust in public health experts, and are more likely to follow their advice, she said.

With the oldest population in Canada, Newfoundland’s public health leaders have also focused their campaigns for pediatric vaccines to protect grandparents—something that resonates deeply. A popular advertisement for immunization of children showed a little girl licking a wooden spoon with the message, “Because my naan needs help with her cookies.”

“My eldest son was very worried for his grandparents. He doesn’t want to get sick and pass it on to them,” said Ms. Abbott, a teacher at the local elementary school. “I think we have a close relationship with that older generation, and we want to protect them.”

Opinion: Newfoundland and Labrador’s culture has helped it achieve Canada’s highest vaccination rate

Long before COVID-19, Newfoundlanders were already more pro-vaccine than most other Canadian provinces, and they had a well-oiled childhood vaccination program that consistently beat national rates. Part of this can be explained by history, and a devastating problem with tuberculosis that persisted here until the early 1970s, until the disease was under control elsewhere.

Many families in the province have relatives who still share those stories, and this has helped build a collective understanding of the importance of vaccination.

“Vaccine-preventable diseases were a very real part of the lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians,” said Natalie Bridger, a pediatrician in St. Johns. “With better water, sanitation and food security, we have become a more resilient province against infectious diseases, but vaccines were a major part of that.”

Her father grew up in Brighton, a small fishing community in northern Newfoundland in the 1950s and 1960s, and still talks about how children couldn’t play outside in the summer because of the polio virus, and how Neighbors lost children to whooping cough, he said.

The isolation of many Newfoundland and Labrador communities was a major reason why some preventable diseases were difficult to detect and treat. Without access to X-rays and proper treatment, tuberculosis spread extensively through outports. By the mid-1950s, it was a leading cause of death in the province, killing thousands in the first half of that century.

“I think those memories are still very much alive in Newfoundland of TB at large from the 1940s, 50s and 60s,” said Premier Andrew Fury.

“For historical reasons, Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have been very compliant with regards to vaccines. In general, we have a very busy population that recognizes the value of vaccines and the importance of following science and public health measures. This is not to be underestimated. should go.”

Less effort is needed to persuade people to get vaccinated. Instead, the focus has been on access over acceptance, achieving more and more mass vaccination clinics in local legion clubs, church and fisherman’s halls and community centers. Parents seem to have helped by giving their children the option of getting their children vaccinated at school or clinic.

“Instead of choosing one or the other, I think we have identified access and convenience as the biggest constraints in our population,” said Mr. Fury. “For this age group, I think making vaccines available in schools was the key to really driving those numbers up.”

Initially, the Pediatric Campaign had great success getting parents to sign consent forms to vaccinate their children at school during class time, much like previous programs for diseases like meningitis.

The vaccination rate slowed while schools remained closed for more than a month, but Dr. Bridger expects it to start climbing again on Tuesday, when in-school clinics as well as in-person classes resume. Will be

Much of the credit for the pediatric campaign should also go to Janice Fitzgerald, the province’s chief medical officer of health, said Dr. Bridger. He’s a clear communicator, and he had an easy-to-follow plan that allowed parents to book kids’ appointments as soon as vaccines were approved in November, she said.

“Parents were able to sign up online the same day. There were a lot of things that were done ahead of time and I believe that helped get the momentum going,” Dr. Bridger said. “Newfoundlanders may be called out to have some of the worst health outcomes in the country, but vaccines are an area, at least, of which we can be proud.”

He said that in many small communities in the province, vaccination is seen as another way to collaborate and seek out each other.

“We are quite socially connected, and I think some of our success is due to that,” she said. “We’re on a freezing cold reef in the middle of the Atlantic, so people have had to work together for a very long time.”

The premier said geography also plays a role. The settlement of Newfoundland in remote settlements around the island and in Labrador helped develop a culture in which community is the center of people’s lives.

“There’s a culture of being philanthropic, helping your neighbor, which I think is based on the historical context of being isolated,” said Mr. Fury. “People believe they have to do their part to help that community in order to survive.”

Newfoundland has brought in some of the strictest public health measures in the country to combat COVID-19, including new restrictions introduced in December that require all travelers arriving from outside the province to self-isolate for five days. is required to do. These measures have been largely accepted without opposition. Instead, you’re likely to hear pride rather than complaint about how the province has responded to the challenge.

While some children in Newfoundland have been hospitalized by COVID-19, the province has managed to convince thousands of parents that vaccinating their children is just something they do to protect the more vulnerable and older members of their communities. should be done.

“That’s how we’re going to get over this pandemic,” said Mr. Fury. “Ignoring a particular demographic will only prolong the pandemic, and that’s not what any of us want.”

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