Thunder Bay

Challenge of vaccine delivery in remote areas topic at Canadian conference

A public health official in northwestern Ontario is hoping the Canadian Immunization Conference will provide some advice, and best practices on delivering vaccinations in remote communities.

Getting vaccine to people is 'one of the big problems for us' says public health official

Donna Stanley, manager of infectious diseases for the Northwestern Health Unit in Ontario, says a national conference on immunization will help her plan the delivery of vaccines to remote communities in her region. (Northwestern Health Unit)

A public health official in northwestern Ontario is hoping the Canadian Immunization Conference will provide some advice, and best practices on delivering vaccinations in remote communities.

The biennial conference, running December 4 - 6 in Ottawa, brings together researchers who help develop vaccines and the people who implement immunization programs in "one place to share information and ideas," said Donna Stanley, the manager of infectious diseases for the Northwestern Health Unit.

"One of the big problems for us is just getting information out, and also getting vaccines out. We have a big geography, our people are spread around in small and remote areas, so just the logistics of getting vaccines to where they need to be can be challenging," she said.

The unit covers 171,288 square kilometres – approximately one-eighth of Ontario's land mass – stretching to the Manitoba border. It serves over 82,000 people living in 19 municipalities, 39 First Nation communities and two unincorporated or unorganized areas.

The population density of approximately 0.5 people per square kilometre, compared with the provincial average of 14.1 people per square kilometre, makes it challenging for public health officials in the region to coordinate the arrival of vaccines with the availability of people to both give, and get the shots, she said.

'Take advantage of immunizing opportunity' 

"There may only be one place for people to be immunized in that community, and transportation can be a challenge for many of our residents, so we need to make sure that we have the vaccine there, when that person sees that health care provider, ready to go, and take advantage of that immunizing opportunity."

The unit operates vaccination programs for infants, school programs to immunize students against meningococceal disease, hepatitis B and human papillomavirus, as well as offering routine adult immunizations for diseases like tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis.

"Just as we want people to eat healthy, and we want people to be active and avoid smoking and things like that, we also need people to think of immunization as a routine thing that you do, that keeps you healthy," she said.

'Maintain trust in immunization'

According to Stanley, vaccination rates in northwestern Ontario remain generally high.

"Our goal is to maintain trust in immunization and to do that by being transparent and helping people understand the safety system and the value of immunization," which includes teaching people about "the risk of the diseases", she said.

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