Pandemic demands, 'vaccine fatigue' means Sudbury area behind on childhood vaccinations

·3 min read

With many children across Greater Sudbury not up to date with their childhood vaccinations due to the pandemic, Public Health is looking to kids back on track.

During its September meeting Thursday, Public Health staffers presented an update on the recovery program the health unit will employ in the coming months to ensure students who have fallen behind on their scheduled vaccines can get up to date as soon as possible.

“The objective of the immunization program is to prevent, control, eliminate, or eradicate vaccine preventable diseases, by directly protecting vaccine recipients and also indirectly protecting those that are vulnerable,” said Sandra Lacle, director of school health for the vaccine preventable diseases and COVID prevention division.

Getting children back on track across a number of different health issues was identified as one of four key priorities in the health unit’s COVID-19 recovery plan released last February. Ensuring that children are up to date with their vaccinations is just part of that goal.

According to Lacle, the pandemic has created challenges for vaccination programming in the region due to the capacity issues with staffing and other resources, which were deployed to address pandemic concerns.

“Two years of the pandemic has resulted in a significant backlog,” she said. “This backlog is both on the data front and on the vaccine front.”

Currently, it is estimated that nearly 1,900 students from grades seven to 12 are due, and another 1,600 are overdue, for meningococcal disease immunization. Nearly 6,000 are eligible for HPV immunization, and another 5,400 are eligible for hepatitis B immunization.

It’s also estimate that 90 per cent of local children aged zero to four are behind on their TDaP vaccinations, among others.

There is also a data backlog. According to Lacle, vaccination records need to be updated manually by Public Health staff. In early 2022, an estimated 4,000 outstanding records needed to be entered.

“With staff redeployed to the COVID response, there was a reduced focus on this program area, which has led to fewer vaccinations overall, less promotion, of non-COVID vaccines, and less engagement with partners such as school boards and health care providers.”

She added, “There have also been greater barriers to accessing services overall, including the need to stay home and adhere to public health measures. There is also a great deal of vaccine fatigue, resulting from the nearly two-year focus on COVID-19 vaccines. This fatigue is leading to greater hesitancy and fewer children and youth coming forward to catch up on their routine immunizations.”

Renee St Onge, director of knowledge and strategic services, said the health unit will be employing a number of tactics to refocus on childhood vaccination programs. That includes building up capacity, promoting clinics and vaccination opportunities, and re-engaging with partners like school boards. It will also be advertising recovery or catch-up clinics to children who have fallen behind.

During the meeting, the board also unanimously passed a motion to prioritize re-balancing their recovery priorities, including the vaccination programs, with ongoing COVID-19 efforts.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is not over yet,” said chief dedical officer Dr. Penny Sutcliffe. “We have a lot of demands on us in the case of contact management, but moreover the vaccination.

"But we also need to make sure that we are very much keeping our eye on the ball of other risks in our community, and that we continue to do an ongoing risk-based approach and assessment so that we allocate our resources appropriately and proportionate to the risk.”

She added, “We need to continue to assess the risk, to ensure we’re not putting all of our eggs in the COVID basket.”

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Twitter: @mia_rjensen

Mia Jensen, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Sudbury Star