Toronto is making a great case for vaccination

Hundreds of thousands of doses of the H1N1 vaccine are being made available in Toronto, even though many health-care providers had advised against it. Many will look at the Toronto city government’s “Vaccinate You” campaign — a brilliant way to convince people to get vaccinated despite the small risk of transmitting a virus to a needle-phobic public. “I think for a lot of people this is the public relations equivalent of going into battle,” said Irvin Waller, an associate professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and an expert on public relations. “Vaccinate, Vax You, Prevail,” read the Toronto billboards announcing the shipments of the vaccine, which have been sent to 8 of Canada’s most densely populated cities.

The campaign is meant to bolster vaccination rates, and also make it very clear why vaccinations are important for public health.

Toronto public health officials released an excellent infographic on the province’s profile of infection, showing that Toronto’s rate of previous infection is twice that of the rest of the country. “It has the second highest rate of H1N1, despite the fact that the H1N1 virus is no longer a public health concern,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s head of public health. If those individuals who have not been vaccinated were to catch an infection the city would see “a real problem,” said Dr. Janet Holanger, Toronto’s health commissioner.

(The graphic was also made public on the “I am Toronto” website, part of the City of Toronto’s urban imagination initiative that promotes its city as a platform for inspiration and opportunity for people around the world.)

As part of its “I am Toronto” campaign, the City of Toronto makes the case that vaccines are essential for public health. — Toronto (@Toronto) May 19, 2015

A small proportion of people in Toronto will contract a respiratory virus like norovirus or influenza, but those without a regular healthcare provider, who can spread the infection to many more, can play a large role in spreading the virus, doctors have said. At this point, those with a virus are considered “public health problems” and those with an elevated risk of infection are encouraged to be vaccinated.

“Vaccination, even when used to protect against just one or two diseases, can play a large part in health,” said Dr. David McKeown, Toronto’s head of public health. “Vaccinating against just one or two diseases, like flu, is an effective and cost-effective way to reduce complications and decrease absenteeism among people with certain chronic diseases.”

For some people, however, the thought of a shot might be more dread than excitement. For some people, this can be more of a universal question than just why and how vaccines work.

Through this campaign, Toronto makes the case that it is heroic to get vaccinated, though one political note resonates: While those Canadians with children under the age of six are recommended to get vaccinated against influenza, other susceptible populations were not included. “We needed to be careful about protecting those who were at higher risk and protecting vulnerable groups while still protecting the wider public,” Dr. Holanger said.

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