UNB Alumni
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Alumnus hopes to improve immunization rates in seniors

Author: UNB Alumni

Posted on Apr 26, 2021

Category: UNB Fredericton , Inspiring Stories , Science

Older adults living in long-term care homes and retirement residences are increasingly vulnerable to COVID-19, the flu, pneumonia, and other diseases. Proper tracking of immunizations is important for knowing who is protected and when a booster is needed.  

This is where Dr. Kumanan Wilson (BSc’92) comes in. In 2011, Dr. Wilson founded ImmunizeON, a digital immunization tracking system for parents to stay up to date with their children’s vaccinations, which expanded nationally as CANImmunize in 2014. With the current rollout of the COVID-19 vaccinations, immunization tracking has become even more important, especially for seniors.  

Launched this month, a healthy seniors' pilot project conducted by the Centre for Innovation and Research in Aging (CIRA) will use CANImmunize to help older adults in long-term care homes and retirement residences in Fredericton, or their caregivers, track immunizations and remind them of overdue vaccinations.  CIRA is housed in York Care Centre and will conduct the pilot with some of their residents, as well as other similar facilities around Fredericton. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the importance of vaccinations for older adults. We are pleased to be working with CIRA to develop digital solutions that can improve immunization uptake amongst older Canadians,” says Dr. Wilson, a physician researcher at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. “CANImmunize will enable family members and caregivers to know exactly which vaccines their loved one has received and when they need a second dose or booster, providing peace of mind.”

While the research will focus primarily on improving pneumococcal immunizations, the research team will also gather vaccination rates for the flu shot, shingles and COVID-19. With this project, Dr. Wilson hopes to significantly modify the CANImmunize platform by expanding into new geographical regions (New Brunswick assisted or independent living facilities), reaching a new target population (seniors in assisted or independent living), and substantially improving a service delivery model (incorporating seniors’ caregivers into their immunization care).

Kelsey Rusk and Justine HenryKelsey Rusk who is pursuing her master’s degree in applied health services research at UNB is the research coordinator for this project at CIRA. Justine Henry (MScKin'19) is CIRA's director of research, overseeing this and four other healthy senior pilot projects.

“There will be two data collection points throughout the flu season that will allow us to establish a baseline and compare change in self-reported pneumococcal vaccination rates at the start and end of the study,” says Rusk. “We will also establish any changes in self-reported flu, shingles or COVID-19 shots received during the study period. We will analyze and qualitatively describe the survey responses on the usability and usefulness of CANImmunize.”

Rusk says that the research team hopes to uncover factors that affect receiving vaccines, such as having family support or a caregiver to help manage the digital record.

“We will also expand on how digital reminders can help with uptake and alert participants to all required doses of a shot. Gathering the experience of participants will also help establish how much time it could take for facility staff to begin managing residents’ immunization records to help those who may require extra support.”

CANImmunize is being used across Canada, including in Nova Scotia where the platform was used to build the province’s COVID-19 vaccination management system. 

However, this is the first time that CANImmunize is being used in long-term care homes and retirement residences. “We hope that this new and improved digital platform can be rolled out to track adult vaccinations in long-term care and retirement homes across Canada,” says Dr. Wilson.