Essays

Essays October 2019

Let’s Increase Vaccine Accessibility for Ontario’s Youth

Sneha Mukherjee

vaccine 

The influenza season hits Canadians without fail each year, and claims many victims in its wake. Patients show up at walk-in clinics, family physicians’ offices and in numerous instances rush to clog the over-crowded emergency departments in hospitals. The flu causes severe distress in some cases; in others it complicates existing conditions; and in extreme situations can even be fatal. Medical literature suggests that the risk of contracting influenza can be significantly mitigated by administration of the influenza (or flu) vaccine. For example, from 2016-2017, flu vaccination prevented an estimated 5.3 million influenza illnesses, 2.6 million influenza-associated medical visits, and 85,000 influenza-associated hospitalizations.

Despite the many benefits, I have not been able to receive the vaccine during every flu season. I remember one particularly busy school year when, due to scheduling challenges, I could not coordinate with my parents to go to the doctor’s office to get my flu shot. I can imagine that I am not the only student who has faced such a situation. Accessibility to the flu vaccine for children must be increased. So, I propose that the flu vaccine should be offered in both elementary and high schools across Ontario. If we offer the flu vaccine at schools in the same manner that the HPV vaccine is offered, then we increase the likelihood of having a vaccinated population that is protected through herd immunity.

Finding someone to administer the flu shot may be challenging. Perhaps in the spirit of a “private-public-partnership” model, Public Health Ontario and the School Boards could partner with pharmaceutical and drug stores to provide flu shots to their local schools. Instead of children having to travel to a doctor’s office or to a pharmacy to get their flu shots, they could get their flu shots in the school itself. The concept of creating flu clinics outside of the traditional setting of doctors’ offices is not new—Toronto has set up flu clinics in a library, a mall, a civic centre, and a town centre, for example.  The flu clinic would not have to be set up in all schools for the entire season—a few healthcare professionals could administer flu shots for a day or even a week in local schools.

Any outreach program to provide easier accessibility and education for the flu vaccine would undoubtedly entail investment of tax dollars. However, there are a plethora of benefits to offering the flu vaccine in schools. Children are often unwilling to get the flu vaccine because of fear of the pain. Through positive peer pressure, perhaps this fear can be combated. Furthermore, by offering vaccines in schools, we enhance the cultural norm of being vaccinated, which will hopefully influence children to continue regularly getting vaccinated as they grow older. This service also protects teachers who are at high risk of contracting influenza because of the nature of their workplace environment. The flu vaccine is currently highly accessible for most adults, who are capable of driving themselves to their closest family practitioner or pharmacy. Shouldn’t youth have the right to have easy access to vaccinations as well?

About the Author

Sneha Mukherjee will be attending McMaster’s Health Sciences program in the fall, and is passionate about health advocacy and raising awareness about health issues.

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