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Alberta gets a 'D' in vaccine report card for seniors

Third annual report card by CanAge gives the province a poor grade when it comes to vaccination strategies for seniors.
Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge, Canada's national senior's advocacy organization. Photo supplied.

In its third annual Vaccine Report Card (2022-23), CanAge, (Canada's national senior's advocacy organization), has given Alberta a grade of "D." With nearly 700,000 seniors in the province, robust vaccination strategies are essential to safeguard the health of this significant demographic. And the province isn't there, says the report.

Alberta has taken positive steps by funding senior-specific flu vaccines and implementing a comprehensive annual influenza program. This program extends its services to seniors in continuing care and those aging in place within the community with community supports.

However, significant gaps remain as Alberta does not currently fund shingles vaccines for its senior population, adds the report. Laura Tamblyn Watts, CEO of CanAge notes, “Public funding for the highly effective (94%+) shingles vaccine needs to be an immediate priority for governments. Shingles is hugely painful and debilitating, and treating it requires significant acute care costs which could be almost completely avoided through vaccination. Problematically, opioids are often prescribed to manage pain, and there is no cure for Shingles.”

Alberta has also not updated its documentation to reflect the funding of best-in-class pneumonia vaccines, as recommended by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) over six months ago. The organization emphasizes the critical role these vaccines play in protecting vulnerable seniors, especially those in long-term care and congregate settings.

Tamblyn Watts cautions, “The best-in-class pneumonia vaccinations are critical for vulnerable seniors, or any adult living in a long-term or congregate care settings. A wave of infectious pneumonia spreading through vulnerable populations is deadly. Many of those deaths can be prevented by the new pneumonia vaccine."

CanAge says there is no evidence of changes in the administration of pneumococcal vaccines per the updated NACI recommendations. These should have been incorporated into the recently released Alberta Outreach Immunization Program (released July 2023) to enhance the province's overall vaccination strategy.

"Vaccines are a cornerstone of senior health, and they must be accessible, well-documented, and up to date. Our report highlights the need for Alberta to continue investing in vaccines to protect the health of its seniors," said Tamblyn Watts.

Tamblyn Watts says Alberta's "D" grade serves as a call to action to address gaps and strengthen immunization initiatives for older adults.

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