Federal Health Minister Contemplates School COVID-19 Vaccination to Drive Uptake

Federal Health Minister Contemplates School COVID-19 Vaccination to Drive Uptake
Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos makes an announcement on ending vaccine mandates for domestic travellers, transportation workers, and federal employees, in Ottawa on June 14, 2022. (The Canadian Press/Patrick Doyle)
Noé Chartier

The federal government is not satisfied with COVID-19 booster vaccination uptake and is contemplating going mobile to bring the shots to people, including into schools, according to Canadian Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos.

“These vaccines have to be easily accessible, families don’t have a lot of time, so do we go into schools, into long term healthcare facilities, do we have mobile clinics, do we go into businesses, these would be ways to facilitate vaccinations and protect everyone in the coming weeks,” Duclos said during a COVID-19 update press conference on Oct. 7.

“We’re going to have to accelerate, in every province, the access to this information on the importance [of getting boosted], but also actually access to the vaccine itself. It’s not only a matter of information: we have to simplify people’s lives.”

The federal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over health care, hence any mobile scheme would need to get buy-in from provinces and territories.

Ottawa announced on that same day that it had authorized use of the Pfizer bivalent booster shot which targets the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
This followed approving Moderna’s bivalent booster which targets the BA.1 subvariant in September.
Neither product underwent clinical trials.

While over 80 percent of Canada’s population has completed a primary series of COVID-19 injections, uptake for extra doses is lagging.

As of Sept. 11, 49 percent of Canadians had received a booster, according to Health Canada. Rates are lowest in Nuvavut (37.3 percent) and Alberta (38.3 percent), and highest in Newfoundland and Labrador (57.6) and Nova Scotia (53 percent).

Uptake for the primary series was driven in part by mandates at every level of government and by some businesses.

Provinces started dropping vaccine passports in February and Ottawa suspended most of its vaccine mandates in June.
A partly declassified briefing provided to the Liberal government cabinet before it took that decision said the federal and provincial mandates led to an increase of 5 to 8 percent in first-dose uptake.

‘Lagging Behind’

Health Minister Duclos said during the press conference Canada is lagging behind for booster shots compared to other countries.
He did not provide a direct comparison, but for example Canada is ahead of the U.S., the U.K., France, and Denmark in booster coverage, according to Our World in Data. It is trailing countries like Italy, Singapore, and Japan.

Chief Public Health Officer Dr. Theresa Tam was sitting alongside Duclos and said Canada has a “great foundation” of primary series vaccination to become a “world leader for up-to-date coverage.”

The federal government’s desire to be a “world leader” in vaccination was a feature of its vaccine mandate for domestic travel.

In a briefing prepared for Transport Minister Omar Alghabra before the mandate came into force in late October 2021, the policy was presented as a “world-leading vaccination requirement for travel.”
As Canada still promotes COVID-19 injections for the general population without age or risk stratification, other jurisdictions have changed their recommendations in recent weeks.

The latest to do so was Florida on Oct. 7, with its surgeon general recommending against COVID-19 mRNA vaccination for males aged 18 to 39.

The state’s health department said in a statement its study found there is “an 84% increase in the relative incidence of cardiac-related death among males 18-39 years old within 28 days following mRNA vaccination.”
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