N.W.T. needs to do better job of delivering non-COVID-19 vaccines to seniors: Report

·3 min read
A new report suggests the N.W.T. could allow pharmacists to administer vaccines against influenza, pneumonia and shingles for seniors so that more of them are immunized against those common diseases. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)
A new report suggests the N.W.T. could allow pharmacists to administer vaccines against influenza, pneumonia and shingles for seniors so that more of them are immunized against those common diseases. (Evan Mitsui/CBC - image credit)

The Northwest Territories needs to do more to ensure its elderly population is vaccinated for diseases like influenza, pneumonia and shingles, according to a new report by a national seniors advocacy group.

In the first study of its kind, CanAge looked at the vaccination rates for the elderly in every territory and province and judged them against the federal government's recommendations.

"The results were pretty horrible," said Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge.

The report, Adult Vaccination in Canada: Cross-country report card 2021, shows the N.W.T. got the best grade of the three territories and beat out a number of provinces as well.

"But having said that, the grade is still very low," said Tamblyn Watts.

The N.W.T. got a D overall, which is slightly higher than the national average of D-.

The report says provinces and territories were judged based on which vaccines were funded, the availability and accessibility of vaccines, and on efforts to educate older people about regional immunization programs.

"The Northwest Territories got a C+ in funding, a C in awareness, but an F in access, so you can get things funded, but you may not actually get them into your arm," said Tamblyn Watts.

Report's recommendations

What would help, she added, would be if the N.W.T. allowed pharmacies to administer the different vaccines, which it doesn't right now.

"There's really no good reason for it," she said.

Tamblyn Watts said it would also help if the territory made the adult vaccination schedule public.

She said just like for children, there is a vaccination schedule for adults that shows which vaccines seniors need to be taking and when they're going to take them.

"So that's just an easy fix that they could fix right away," she said.

She added that the roll-out of the COVID-19 vaccine in the territory, including in the remote communities, can be copied to deliver influenza, pneumonia and shingles vaccines by having a team go to a community, set up and then do a mass vaccination.

"We know that with COVID-19, people are really interested in vaccinations. So this is an opportunity to fix the system once and not have the system broken even after we do the COVID-19 vaccination system," she said.

Territory pushes back

In an email to CBC, N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green said her department was provided the report on Feb. 22 but was never asked to provide any information for the report or verify its findings.

"We are currently reviewing the findings and will formally respond in partnership with the other territories. Our initial observation notes a number of inaccuracies, incomplete information, broken links in their reference section, and questions regarding their methodologies and conclusions," she wrote.

N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green said her department's initial observations about the report are that it has a number of inaccuracies and incomplete information. She also questioned the report's methodologies and conclusions.
N.W.T. Health Minister Julie Green said her department's initial observations about the report are that it has a number of inaccuracies and incomplete information. She also questioned the report's methodologies and conclusions.

She said the recommendation about having pharmacists administer vaccines doesn't take into account regulations that don't permit it to happen.

"There is misleading information about specific vaccinations formulations which doesn't take into account the role of the CPHO [chief public health officer] and the population health approach," she added.

Green said the timing of the report's release raises questions as all provinces and territories are focusing their efforts on their COVID-19 vaccination rollouts.

She said the N.W.T. made "good progress" in immunizing residents who are 60 and over against COVID-19, and added the territory has strong partnerships with seniors organizations "and a range of programs and services to support seniors to access the care and supports they need."