Vaccine policies of Canadian governments
Vaccine policies of Canadian governments
By Mila Astorga-Garcia
The Philippine Reporter
There is no doubt that governments all over the world are looking forward to the development and production of the appropriate vaccine to deal with if not end the COVID-19 pandemic.
After all, it has been six months since the ruinous health and economic effects of this present day plague have wreaked havoc on people’s lives and pushed economic development downhill.
While several countries like Canada are engaged in scientific research to develop their own vaccine, others like Italy are already testing the vaccine developed on their own on its population. Still in another country – the Philippines – the government simply prefers to wait for the vaccine being developed by other countries – China or Russia, according to a recent presidential announcement – to arrive supposedly to solve the Covid-19 crisis once and for all, without a plan in clear sight as to how this will be implemented by a military-led task force.
In Canada, although the three levels of government have supported vaccine development, there are issues such as vaccination implementation, e.g. mandatory or not, that they still need to seriously deal with.
The following is a brief summary of collected information on Canada’s involvement and stand on the issue of vaccines:
The Government of Canada
As early as April 23, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, announced to media more than $1 billion in support of a national medical research strategy to fight COVID-19 that includes vaccine development, the production of treatments, and tracking of the virus. This new funding builds on the $275 million investment for coronavirus research and medical countermeasures announced in March.
This funding will be used to develop the infrastructure to fight the virus in Canada, which includes, among others vaccine development and a strategy to monitor vaccine safety and effectiveness, according to the media announcement.
The funding has led to the establishment of the COVID-19 Immunity Task Force that will operate under the direction of a leadership group—composed of leading medical professionals and scientists – that will establish priorities and oversee the coordination of research toward reliable estimates of potential immunity and vulnerabilities in Canadian populations.
Funding is also targeted “to accelerate the development, testing, and implementation of medical and social countermeasures to mitigate the rapid spread of COVID-19, as well as its social and health impacts.”
Emphasizing the country’s reliance on its top scientists and researchers to implement vaccine development and appropriate application, Trudeau says:
“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been working closely with Canada’s health experts and researchers, who are some of the most skilled and brightest in the world. We are making sure that Canada remains at the forefront of scientific research to help us make smart and effective decisions on the path to recovery.”
The Ontario Government
The Province of Ontario, meanwhile, is also funding research projects designed specifically to “help fight coronavirus” through its Ontario Covid-19 Rapid Research Fund. The fund provides colleges, universities, research institutions and hospitals with funding to contribute to global efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.
Funded projects range from the development of appropriate diagnostic testing for Covid-19, to the development of appropriate vaccines for Covid-19.
The Ontario government, through Ontario Public Health, looks at immunization through vaccines as one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century. “Vaccines save lives, prevent the spread of diseases and reduce health care costs. Immunization programs are an important foundation of Ontario’s health system. We provide expertise in immunization and vaccine-preventable disease control,” declares a statement on its website. Once a Covid-19 vaccine becomes developed, tested and declared safe in Ontario, the government has indicated a readiness to implement a vaccination program, the same way it has done for other vaccine preventable diseases.
The City of Toronto
The City of Toronto, through its Department of Public Health, is directly involved in the actual implementation of the city’s vaccination program, including the development of protocols in the use of the Covid-19 vaccine, should it be already available.
For now, however, it would only say, “Currently, there isn’t a vaccine for COVID-19. However, routine vaccination, especially for infants and toddlers, continues to be important during COVID-19. Vaccines should only be postponed if your child has COVID-19 symptoms. Learn more about immunization during COVID-19,” says its website.
Toronto Public Health’s emphasis is to assure people that vaccines in Canada are safe and create immunity to protect people from serious disease; that there are strong testing procedures before they are used and a system in place to monitor safety and quality, such that the risk of serious reactions is “very small in comparison to the disease they protect us form.”
On the question of whether vaccines should be mandatory or optional, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa, had made a firm stand as early as Sept. 2019, when she issued a report urging the Ontario government to consider putting an end to the practice of allowing schoolchildren to skip vaccinations based on their parents objections due to religious or philosophical considerations. She said that exemptions should be based only on medical considerations recommended by a certified health care provider.
Vaccination in Ontario is mandatory for schoolchildren but parents can invoke exemptions for their kids based on medical, religious or philosophical grounds under the Immunization of School Pupils Act. Health Minister Christine Elliott’s had then responded that Ontario was not ready to change that policy, as recommended by De Villa.
Other recommendations by De Villa were for the health board to ask advertisers and social media sites to clamp down on “misleading antivaccination information;” provide “financial incentives” to local health-care providers to get kids immunized; strengthen supports for people who experience serious side-effects from vaccines including a provincial compensation program; and ensure schools have programs to educate children about vaccines and help boost immunization levels.
“Vaccine hesitancy, the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines, is a growing concern in Canada,” so Toronto public health needs a “comprehensive strategy” involving parents, health care providers, students, educators and all levels of government, De Villa’s report states.
This issue will even be more relevant with school opening and the possibility of a Covid-19 vaccine becoming available sometime in the near future.
In a more recent related development indicating Toronto’s chief health official’s consistent position on the vaccine issue, De Villa last month won the right to intervene in a court dispute over vaccinating a divorced couple’s children, where the father wants his two children vaccinated and the mother is opposed – both citing medical and health reasons – the father objecting to the mother’s preference for natural medicine.
De Villa maintains her involvement is necessary rare step to combat dangerous misinformation about vaccines.
The case will be heard in court in September 2020.