The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how ill-prepared the world was for a major health crisis. The pandemic continues to have an impact in Canada and around the world. The virus remains with us, and the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) continues to encourage Canadians to get vaccinated, receive their boosters and wear a well-fitting mask especially when among at-risk populations. Canada must also do more to support international vaccination efforts against COVID-19 to reduce global inequities and the impact of future COVID-19 variants.
“As burned-out health care workers do their best to try to clear up a staggering backlog of surgeries and other delayed care, learning from the past two-plus years and preparing for the future must be a priority for governments, health authorities and society overall,” says Dr. Katharine Smart, president of the CMA. “It’s critical that governments and health stakeholders plan now to build public health capacity, enhance infectious disease surveillance and increase trust in public health. We must also continue to do our fair share globally.”
The CMA supported the Public Health Physicians of Canada’s review of the pandemic, Public Health Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Pandemic, which includes several key recommendations to bolster public health capacity in Canada.
The CMA is particularly supportive of the following recommendations that would require action from federal, provincial and territorial governments:
increase funding and resourcing of public health teams and organizations;
acknowledge and address the significant burnout among public health and health care teams; and
collaborate with communities to address systemic discrimination in health care and public health, including with respect to Indigenous health, with dedicated funding.
These steps, coupled with revitalizing our health workforce, are critical to ensuring Canada is prepared for future waves of COVID-19 or another virus that could threaten lives, the health system and the economy.
In addition, the CMA strongly urges the federal government to accelerate its efforts against COVID-19 on the global stage. According to Our World in Data, while approximately 65% of the world’s population has received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, only 17.8% of people in low-income countries have received one.
A new survey conducted by Ipsos on behalf of the CMA* reveals that Canadians are concerned about global vaccine rates and the potential of further variants circulating as they reunite with friends and families abroad. The survey found that two thirds of Canadians worry about the potential for rising COVID-19 rates and new variants circulating domestically as a result of low vaccine rates, and 44% worry about family and friends travelling to countries with low vaccination rates.
“Canadians are telling us that the higher the global vaccination rate, the safer they will feel at home in Canada,” says Dr. Smart. "By helping other countries reach high levels of vaccination, we will protect everyone, including Canadians.”
The federal government has committed to investing more than $2.5 billion to support the global response to COVID-19, including vaccination efforts, and pledging to contribute the equivalent of at least 200 million doses to COVAX by the end of 2022. Halfway through the year, public records indicate that $1.6 billion has been invested.
The CMA is calling on the federal government to accelerate the pace of distributing vaccines globally to reduce inequities and help protect Canadians at home and abroad as the world re-opens to international travel.
Canada — and the rest of the world — cannot go unprepared and unsupported into another major public health crisis. We must act today.
* An online panel survey was conducted among a representative, nationwide sample of 2,001 Canadians aged 18 years and older. The credibility interval for a sample of this size is +/- 2.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The survey was conducted between June 3 and June 7, 2022