Nurses help Point Douglas to lead in HPV vaccinations

Photo of a young girl receiving a vaccine

Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, February 7, 2020

It's a fact that in the last 60 years, immunization has saved more lives in Canada than any other medical intervention. Vaccines have cut rates of diseases like diphtheria and measles by 100 and 99 per cent respectively since they were first introduced.

In spite of this track record, childhood vaccination rates across Canada are not what they could be for these serious but preventable diseases. Winnipeg is no exception to that rule, with vaccination rates for children across the city ranging from 62 to 70 per cent for various vaccines. That's well below the recommended 90 to 95 per cent required for optimum immunity in a population.

There are bright spots, however. The WRHA's 2019 Community Health Assessment (CHA) reported that rates of school-age vaccinations in my area, Point Douglas, were quite strong compared to the city-wide rate. Point Douglas even boasted the highest immunization rates in Winnipeg for school-age human papilloma virus (HPV) immunization.

Following guidelines set by Manitoba Health, school immunizations are administered across the province. These occur in Grade 6, where vaccines for meningococcal disease, hepatitis B, and HPV are offered, and in Grade 8, where vaccination is administered to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough). These students still require parental (or guardian) consent in order to be vaccinated, and that is where the work of our team's public health nurses is worthy of special appreciation.

While the CHA reflects data collected from 2017, recent efforts in Point Douglas continue. In 2018/2019, for example, public health nurses in Point Douglas had a lower return rate on consent forms than they expected by the initial deadline. That prompted them to look into ways to improve uptake. They buckled down on their efforts to increase immunization uptake and doubled the number of consent forms returned by clinic day, which contributed to more immunizations.

The secret to their success? Persistence, creativity and flexibility.

Working closely with the area's 17 eligible schools, the public health nurses made concerted efforts to speak directly with parents, guardians and children to highlight the importance of immunization.

All of us working in Point Douglas are acutely aware of the barriers our clients face when accessing care. Those barriers include language and literacy, socioeconomic factors, and distrust, experienced by some, of institutionalized health services - due in part to past wrongs such as segregated Indian hospitals. This is where persistence and flexibility are important, as well as approaching all of our clients with compassion.

In addition to acknowledging these barriers, public health nurses understand the importance of building relationships and trust with clients. This means being flexible in how they deliver care. Nurses may work flexible hours to reach families for whom there is no accurate telephone number or fixed address. Similarly, meetings may occur on the street or other non-traditional locations. No two families are alike.

Comfort is also a consideration. Comfort animals are sometimes used to calm a vaccine recipient. From cats and dogs, to snakes, to various jungle-themed stuffed animals, public health nurses have seen it all.

Thanks to vaccination rate improvements in Point Douglas, public health nurses have begun to lay the foundation for improved relationships with health providers.

The flexibility, communication and relationship-building they employ are instrumental in all community areas, not only to get the message out about vaccinations, but to start a life-long dialogue about health and wellness.

Providing one-on-one education about the value of vaccinations and how they protect you and your family has clearly paid off for families in Point Douglas. But, just as no community is the same, there is no single solution that will suit every group or every community area. What is clear is that there is always an opportunity to provide more information about the value of vaccinations, and Winnipeg public health nurses are clearly up to the task.

Craig Ross is the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority's team manager in the Point Douglas community area. This column was published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, February 7, 2020.

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The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority acknowledges that it provides health services in facilities located in Treaty One and Treaty Five territories, the homelands of the Métis Nation and the original lands of the Inuit people. The WRHA respects and acknowledges harms and mistakes, and we dedicate ourselves to collaborate in partnership with First Nation, Métis and Inuit people in the spirit of reconciliation.
Click here to read more about the WRHA's efforts towards reconciliation

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