The180·The 180

Why anti-vaxxers aren't the biggest threat to immunization

The Liberal government has promised a national strategy to increase vaccination rates, but one journalist argues there are bigger barriers to Canada's immunization system than the people opposed to vaccines.
Free influenza shots will be available across Ontario starting this week. (Chanss Lagaden/CBC)

The Liberal government has promised a national strategy to increase vaccination rates.

But journalist Genna Buck, who specializes in health and science stories, says there are some major barriers to immunizations — barriers beyond the widely publicized tensions between parents who keep their children up to date on their shots and parents who have chosen not to vaccinate.

The full interview is available in the audio player above. The following portions have been edited for clarity and length. 

Q: When you talk about barriers to immunization, what do you mean? 

A: In the current system that we have in Canada, the onus is on the vaccinator, which in most cases — because these are childhood diseases — is the parent. So the barrier is all the things that could keep a parent from doing the things they're supposed to do. A lot of people have a lot chaos in their lives — they need reminders, they need a system where they're going to have contact with a person to tell them they need to be vaccinated. There are other barriers as well, but the main one that is fixable is the fact that people who are very open to being vaccinated aren't being vaccinated because the system isn't really making it easy for them to make the right choice.

Q: If these systems vary from province to province, are there any provinces that are doing it right?

A: There is one that is an A+ vaccination station and that is Newfoundland. They use public health nurses to deliver their vaccinations and a lot of times, it's done at home, so you have somebody come to your house and say, 'It's time for your kid's shot.' There are a lot of advantages to that. One: no reminders. Two: if you have questions or concerns, you're going to have a human being in front of you to answer your questions and assuage some of your concerns and you tend to say 'yes' when someone's right in your face. And then it will be done and your kid will be protected.

Q: So why don't we all just copy what Newfoundland and Labrador is doing?

A: I can only think that it would be very expensive and that the reason why they're able to have a system that's that effective is because they have a very small population to deal with.

There is a system that was proposed, that was funded, that we got ready to implement, which was called Panorama. It was a database system that was going to keep track, digitally, of the vaccination rates across the country. It was going to be able to keep track of when people needed come in for boosters; it was going to be able to identify hot spots, which is a really key thing in public health. If there's a cluster of people together that are not vaccinated, those people are putting everyone else at risk because that's a place where infectious agents like viruses can enter. And right now, we don't know.

So this system was going to take care of the registrations, the reminders, keeping track, and also this public health dimension and it was kind of dropped a few years ago. 

Click the blue button above to listen to the full interview.


  • Some provinces have adopted the Panorama system for their own records, but the national version has not been implemented. 

January 12, 2016 10:35 AM MT 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?