Editorial – Vaccine messaging errors

Since the approval of the first COVID-19 vaccine in December 2020, there has been a flood of optimistic messages that we all will receive vaccines soon. But soon is a relative term and as the goal posts get continuously moved for the end date of the pandemic, the message of when and how people will receive a vaccine has become more and more confusing.

The COVID-19 pandemic has been in Canada for over a year, and while much of every level of government has been focused on how to keep people safe and minimize the spread, there was planning on how to deliver these vaccinations to the masses, once there was a vaccine available.

Procurement has been an issue, and that is the federal government’s problem. Promises and many orders from many suppliers, enough to vaccinate Canada several times over, have become an empty claim. The words are not backed up by action. Canadian supply was put on the back-burner by manufacturers, while other countries caught up and surpassed us. On February 11th, Canada ranked 38th in the world for percentage of the population vaccinated. One month later, Canada doesn’t even break into the top-60 countries list.

Once the vaccine supply gets here, each province is responsible for distributing it. Ontario’s 34 health units have been tapped to provide vaccination clinics, and eventually pharmacies will be able to offer vaccinations too. A localized plan is a good idea as health units know the demographics in the communities served best. Where the province and health units are falling down is in communicating who can get vaccinations, and when.

The definition of who is included in Phase One and Phase Two of Ontario’s vaccination plan is vague. Those who are 80 years old or older are able to get the vaccine currently, as can some essential medical workers and first responders. That said, confusion reigns. By the time the province enters Phase Two, nearly anyone with a health issue could get a vaccine. Vague messaging leads to errors, queue jumping, and confusion.

The provincial booking system for vaccinations relies on the internet, which is not reliable in rural Ontario. The communication messaging of who can get a vaccine and when remains unclear.

It is not too late to fix this, but it will require a simplified message that is easily accessible to all. The longer the confusion and unclear messaging continues, the slower the vaccination process will be.

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