Getting COVID-19 vaccine in the hands of community providers could accelerate distribution

The priority for government right now is to get vaccinations out as effectively and efficiently as possible. The Registered Nurses’ Association of Ontario (RNAO) and three of the largest home care providers in the province – SE Health, VON, Bayshore HealthCare – are calling on the government to get the COVID-19 vaccinations into the hands of community providers including nurses, physicians and pharmacists, immediately. By making immediate use of existing community care providers and their existing infrastructure, we can rapidly accelerate the rate of vaccination across the province. There is no need to reinvent the wheel.

Every year, thousands of nurses, physicians and pharmacists provide routine vaccinations through public health and established networks including primary care, pharmacies and home care. For example, home care nurses vaccinate vulnerable populations who are homebound or in congregate settings, such as shelters, as part of their regular job. These community-based infrastructures and their health-care professionals using practiced and perfected distribution systems for vaccination – must be put to work immediately to deliver what is urgently needed – COVID-19 vaccinations.

“The current approach to vaccine roll-out has been painfully slow and is delaying a life-saving shot for those who need it most, including long-term care residents and homebound frail seniors who cannot or ought not travel to access care,” says Dr. Doris Grinspun, CEO of RNAO. Going forward, Grinspun adds, “RNAO wants to see existing community resources such as primary care physicians, nurse practitioners, registered nurses, registered practical nurses and pharmacists being fully utilized to get the broader population inoculated by end of July, without drawing away the already overwhelmed hospital resources. For example, nurses working in home care could be vaccinating the patients they visit, as well as vulnerable populations they serve every year during the flu season.”
“We can do this. With our competent nurses and a distribution network already set up, we are ready to go,” says Shirlee Sharkey, CEO of SE Health. “If we were given access to the vaccine today, our nurses would be vaccinating seniors in their homes tomorrow. It’s that simple.”

The COVID-19 vaccination roll-out cannot overlook the opportunity for vaccine distribution in community care sectors that already serve vulnerable populations. In home care alone, hundreds of thousands of homebound clients and frontline health-care professionals could be vaccinated rapidly using existing systems and practices. Vaccinating family caregivers at the same time would allow for an efficient roll out of vaccines for a very significant portion of the population using existing visits and infrastructure.
The COVID-19 vaccine, in concert with public health measures, represents our best opportunity to defeat COVID-19 and end its devastating impact. We urge the government to leverage opportunities already existing in community care for rapid vaccine roll-out to those at greatest risk, 24×7.