Roundtable Report Highlights Importance of Immunizing Canada’s Caregivers Against Influenza, Identifying Challenges and Opportunities to Protect This Critical Group

Experts agreed that caregivers are essential to the Canadian healthcare system and economy, yet their importance often goes underrecognized, even by caregivers themselves.

New York, NEW YORK (June 1, 2022)—The Global Coalition on Aging (GCOA) today released a report summarizing key insights from an expert roundtable on vaccinating Canada’s caregivers against influenza. The roundtable, held virtually, brought together leading Canadian health policy experts, family caregivers, patient advocacy groups, aging experts, and other thought leaders to discuss challenges and strategies to reach this critically important yet hard-to-reach group.

Around 8 million Canadians provide care to a family member or friend, many of whom are medically vulnerable. At the same time, only 42% of Canadian adults received an influenza vaccine during the two seasons prior to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the full impact of influenza widely underrecognized. Research shows that a case of influenza leads to a tenfold increase in the risk of a first heart attack and an eightfold increase in stroke risk in the few days following an infection.

“Influenza can have a devastating impact,” explained Michael Hodin, CEO of the Global Coalition on Aging.Each year, influenza increases hospital admissions and overcrowds emergency departments, creating unsafe conditions and crippling the healthcare system, while leading to a cascade of decline in many previously healthy adults. Vaccination is one of the most cost-effective and accessible ways that caregivers can protect their own health as well as that of their loved one. Yet, too few Canadian adults, caregivers included, are immunizing themselves against influenza and other preventable diseases.”

Among the top insights uncovered at the roundtable were the centrality of caregivers to the health and wellbeing of families, to the efficient functioning of the Canadian healthcare system, and to the Canadian economy overall. At the same time, the importance of caregivers – and the risks posed to them by infectious diseases like influenza – has largely gone underrecognized across the system and even by caregivers themselves.

The COVID-19 pandemic brought both caregivers and vaccination to the forefront of national and global attention, yet, the expert discussion revealed, the pandemic has also made it more difficult to adequately support caregivers and identify them as partners in care.

Another important insight from the roundtable was a lack of self-recognition among many of Canada’s 8 million caregivers as “caregivers” and as individuals whose own health status is vital and vulnerable, nor awareness of what steps to take to protect their health.

In addition to a need for more nuanced and targeted communications, experts at the roundtable pointed to an opportunity now to bolster existing access points and create new ones, building on innovations and policy momentum from COVID-19 vaccination initiatives. “Access is key for vaccine coverage,” said Laura Tamblyn Watts, President and CEO of CanAge. “As we’ve seen during COVID-19, we need to make sure that people can get their flu vaccines not just in healthcare settings such as doctors’ offices, pharmacies, and long-term care, but also in workplaces and the communities. Our CanAge Vaccine Report shows clearly that access to flu vaccines depends on your province and in some cases, postal code.”

Experts at the GCOA roundtable called for three critical actions:

  • Collect evidence on the burden and cost of influenza on caregivers, the Canadian healthcare system and society and identify best practices that can reduce the burden.
  • Expand access to vaccines, including where vaccines can be administered and by whom, engaging employers in this effort.
  • Develop wide-reaching and targeted education materials in which caregivers can recognize themselves.

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