Media Release – A Canadian first in immunization for First Nations in Alberta

June 22, 2017 – Calgary, Alberta

First Nations in Alberta and their public health partners have taken a major step towards reducing the burden of vaccine preventable diseases. Across North America and Europe, there has been a resurgence of diseases like measles, mumps and pertussis because of suboptimal immunization coverage, due in part to delayed uptake and lack of access to complete immunization records. First Nations children have historically experienced 6-8 times the rates of vaccine preventable disease and significantly more deaths compared to other Canadians. Opportunities to protect First Nations children through immunization may be delayed or missed because of reliance on a patchwork of record transfers completed by phone and fax. Children overdue for routine vaccinations may also go unrecognized. That is about to change.

Nurses immunizing children in Siksika, Stoney, Maskwacis and Bigstone First Nations communities will have immediate electronic access to complete immunization records at the point of care, regardless of where in Alberta those immunizations were given. Also for the first time, First Nations immunization records – delivered in these four First Nations communities – will be integrated with the provincial registry. For any child vaccinated in Siksika, Stoney, Maskwacis and Bigstone, complete records will be available to any health service provider who participates in their care, anywhere in the province. This is the first time in Canada that this type of electronic integration has been achieved between a point of care immunization information system and a provincial immunization registry.

Ashley Filipchuk is a Community Health Nurse delivering immunizations at Siksika Health Services, 45 min east of Calgary. “Real-time access to the records I need, at the time I need it, allows me to provide immunizations to children immediately while the parents are with me in the clinic rather than postponing them to a later date. Prior to this, it would require multiple phone calls and took days to receive complete information via fax or phone. Those delays can cause extra challenges for parents who must arrange child care or transportation again, and some will not return. We can now ensure our children receive the right immunizations at the right time, and the time I spend following-up and searching for information has been significantly cut down.”

“We are thrilled to be involved in this effort that I am positive will improve immunization programs for the children in our community,” said Bonny Graham, Director of Nursing at Maskwacis Health Services, 15 minutes south of Wetaskiwin. “It will prevent delayed and missed immunizations, improve staff efficiency and avoid immunizing unnecessarily when records are incomplete. The nurses in First Nations communities have been asking for systems that talk to each other for years and now we are going to have it! For a public health nurse, it is truly the best invention since sliced bread.”

Despite Alberta having implemented an electronic immunization registry (ImmARI) in 2002, immunizations delivered in First Nations communities remained excluded for over 15 years. The work to create a complete electronic immunization record for every First Nations child in Alberta began in 2011, when Siksika and Stoney Health Services launched the Community Health & Immunization Program (CHIP), Alberta’s first immunization registry and record system for First Nations on reserve (see timeline).

“I am beyond excited with this progress,” said Darlene Richter, Director of Nursing at Stoney Health Services, 30 min west of Calgary. “My hope and dream more than six years ago was that we would be able to access immunization records from other First Nations communities. By 2014, that had happened. I hardly dared to hope that we would be able to access and reconcile provincial records off reserve with our own. I am now confident in my ability to provide up-to-date immunization information and services for our kids who access care both on and off reserve. It is very exciting to be part of this technological advancement and the collaboration that has happened between First Nations, OKAKI and government.”

The successes to date were achieved with significant support from multiple players, including Alberta Health, Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch and First Nations communities and organizations, such as the First Nations Technical Services Advisory Group (TSAG).

“The Alberta government is committed to working with Indigenous peoples in Alberta to identify health needs and improve health outcomes, as part of our commitment to the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples,” said the Honourable Sarah Hoffman, Minister of Health for Alberta. “Thanks to the Siksika, Stoney, Maskwacis and Bigstone First Nations for their willingness to work as partners, and to make life better for their children and communities by working to increase immunization rates and decrease vaccine-preventable diseases.”

“Immunizations are the best way to protect First Nations families and communities and all Canadians from outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases that lead to serious illness and even death,” said the Honourable Jane Philpott, Minister of Health. “I would like to congratulate the Community Health Program staff in these four communities for their success at achieving such a positive milestone in their work to capture this important immunization data.”

Going forward, the next step will be to see this innovation rolled out to all First Nations communities in Alberta.

Shelly Gladue is the Director of Community and Public Health at Bigstone Health Commission in Wabasca. “This project shows that through partnership, creativity, and commitment, First Nations can address health disparities and achieve health services on par with other Albertans. It also shows that addressing First Nations health priorities can be a catalyst for change that benefits all Canadians.”

2017Jun22_S2SMediaRelease – Final.pdf

Media Contacts:

Lowa Beebe, Public Relations, Media & Communications
Siksika Health Services
(403) 852-8181

Media Relations
Alberta Health

Media Relations
Health Canada


NationTalk Partners & Sponsors Learn More