Sunday Edition Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on April 25, 2021
April 25, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to create stress and anxiety for many Canadians, particularly those who do not have ready access to their regular support networks. Through the Wellness Together Canada online portal, people of all ages across the country can access immediate, free and confidential mental health and substance use supports, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Celebrating National Immunization Awareness Week
Yesterday marked the beginning of National Immunization Awareness Week (NIAW). This is an annual event which is held during the last week of April that serves to highlight and recognize the importance of immunization. NIAW coincides with the Pan American Health Organization's Vaccination Week in the Americas and the World Health Organization's World Immunization Week.
NIAW is a longstanding campaign here in Canada and this Sunday Edition is dedicated to this initiative. In its efforts to raise public awareness on the importance of vaccination, NIAW helps to maintain the health and protect the lives of those we hold dear across the country.
Vaccines are certainly top-of-mind for us all across Canada at this time - whether we have been vaccinated against COVID-19 already, are assisting others in getting vaccinated, and/or are eagerly awaiting our own turn. Thanks to remarkable scientific advancements and unprecedented levels of global collaboration, we are fortunate to have a number of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines that are bringing us growing hope.
This year's NIAW theme is, fittingly, "Vaccines Bring Us Closer." Every time someone gets vaccinated we are closer to getting back the things we've missed so much. Vaccines truly are one of the greatest public health achievements of the twentieth century - and as we are seeing with COVID-19, advancements in this area continue to be critical to our health into the twenty-first century.
A Historical Perspective
For those of you who are not familiar with NIAW, its history in the context of the vaccination programs in Canada is worth learning about! NIAW was launched by Immunize Canada in the 1990s. It was based on a very successful program carried out in Canada in the 1930s. In those days, vaccines were new, and the diseases they prevented were very common. Therefore, informing the public on vaccines was a very necessary undertaking. One of the earliest campaigns, launched in 1931, was Toronto's Toxoid Week, which focused on diphtheria.
By the mid-1970s, vaccination was common in Canada, and several serious diseases began to fade from our collective memory. New vaccines also continued to be developed and distributed widely. In 1980, smallpox (a serious infectious disease caused by the variola virus, with a fatality rate of about 30%), was officially eradicated globally. In 1994, Canada was certified as being free of polio (a disabling and life threatening infectious disease caused by the polio virus). These successes are the result of widespread vaccination campaigns.
COVID-19 Vaccines in Canada: History in the Making
COVID-19 has brought vaccines to the forefront of public health once again.
The development of COVID-19 vaccines has been an incredible global scientific achievement. A vaccine development process that generally takes years has been achieved in about 11 months. This development process, built on years of scientific and technological advances, is only possible thanks to the tireless work and collaboration of many researchers around the world. Within a years' time, we now have several safe and effective vaccines to help protect us against COVID-19. I cannot emphasize enough what a tremendous feat this is.
We now know that the COVID-19 vaccines can help to protect us from becoming sick, being hospitalized or dying if we are infected with the virus, as well as reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community, protecting those who cannot, or have yet to be vaccinated. And real-world examples of vaccine effectiveness continue to grow here in Canada! We are seeing reduced cases among older populations who have been vaccinated, and fewer and more contained outbreaks in long-term care facilities. We are also witnessing a decline in COVID-19 cases among people working in healthcare settings. Another heartening and positive example is the high vaccine uptake in Indigenous communities that has contributed to a decline in active cases.
NIAW - Spreading the Message
When National Immunization Week was launched back in 1942, it was noted that the prevention of communicable diseases for which there were specific "preventative agents" was of such significance to public health, and future productivity of the country, that all means available be enlisted in this education effort. Implementation of the plan remained limited to what was technologically possible at the time. Posters (in colour!) were printed for distribution in schools, a series of radio addresses were arranged, and even a "motion picture film" was prepared.
If we consider the ways that we use today to communicate public health-related information, the progress is considerable, with many additional technologies and information-sharing platforms at our disposal. However, inevitably, with these advances comes additional challenges, particularly in terms of the ease and rapidity at which mis- and disinformation can be disseminated (see also my related Sunday Edition).
This is our challenge at this moment in time. It isn't so much about getting the message out anymore - we have countless ways to do so, even as individuals. It is about having the message seen, heard and not have it be misconstrued, or drowned out by all the other 'noise.' As more people in Canada become eligible for vaccination, it has been truly heartening to see many join in the effort to help spread the message about the importance of getting vaccinated, sharing their own vaccination stories and what prompted them to do so. These stories are positive, inspiring, and collectively, they are creating a strong voice in support of vaccination against COVID-19, and the protection of ourselves and one another. I encourage you to continue sharing your stories and the stories of others you know, with social media campaigns like #MyWhy. Together, we can make this voice even stronger!
NIAW - Inspiration to Stay the Course
As COVID-19 vaccines work to protect more and more people in Canada, NIAW can also help to remind and inspire us all to do what we can to stay strong and help protect one another during this time, as we face increased COVID-19 activity and a rise in the proportion of cases involving more contagious variants of concern. I urge everyone to continue to follow public health advice, keep up with individual practices, and get vaccinated when it is your turn.
In addition, and very importantly, although our minds may be focused on COVID-19 vaccines, NIAW also serves as a good opportunity to remind us all about how essential it is that we keep up with routine vaccine recommendations during the pandemic. Your healthcare provider or local public health authority have put in place safe ways for you to get your routine vaccines and to keep your families' vaccinations up to date.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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