24 March 2021
Minister Zach Churchill
Minister of Health and Wellness
Barrington Tower, 1894 Barrington Street
P.O Box 488
Halifax, Nova Scotia, B3J 2R8
Dear Minister Churchill,
We are writing to you today with regards to your prioritization scheme for COVID-19 immunization. Notably, your province has yet to explicitly prioritize patients with cancer or respiratory disease in your COVID-19 vaccination plans. We recognize that this may be because the National Advisory Committee on Immunization has not made clear recommendations on when and how to vaccinate populations with underlying conditions.
However, nearly every other province in Canada has acknowledged the importance of prioritizing those with underlying conditions that make patients more susceptible to severe illness and death, and have moved forward with including these high risk populations in their prioritization schemes. As organizations representing Canadian cancer patients and those with respiratory diseases, we urge your government to follow in the other provinces footsteps and update your rollout plans to specifically prioritize cancer patients and those with chronic respiratory diseases.
While those with underlying conditions may not respond as well to the vaccines, they may also be more likely to have a severe reaction to COVID-19. As such, even a lesser degree of protection is critically important for people with high risk conditions. Cancer patients and those with chronic respiratory diseases are particularly vulnerable to severe complications from COVID-19, and are at an elevated risk of mortality. Treatments for cancer such as chemotherapies and immunotherapies can weaken immune systems and make it harder for individuals to fight the COVID-19 infection. In addition, there is significant evidence that demonstrates that those with respiratory illnesses such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are at a much higher risk of developing severe illness.
It is also important to note that the mental health burden the pandemic is placing on patient populations is immense. Patients and caregivers are living in a state of constant anxiety with fears of themselves, or their loved ones, contracting COVID-19. An increased prevalence of symptoms such as low mood, anxiety and insomnia has been reported among patient populations with many patients reporting that they have avoided seeking in-person care due to fears of contracting COVID-19. Providing these communities with the opportunity to receive the vaccines would help reduce some of the mental health burden and allow patients to focus on their treatments and care.
In keeping with the public health goal of minimizing serious illness and overall deaths as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we suggest that cancer patients and those with chronic respiratory diseases be prioritized before the general population.
We appreciate your attention on this important matter.
Executive Vice President
Lung Health Foundation
President & CEO
Canadian Cancer Survivors Network
Reply from Nova Scotia health officials :
Dear Jessica Sopher,
Thank you for your letter dated March 24, 2021 regarding the COVID-19 vaccine roll out. As Senior Executive Director responsible for Public Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Acute Care in Nova Scotia, the Minister has asked me to respond on his behalf.
I certainly appreciate the concerns that people with underlying medical conditions and their family members have regarding when they may be eligible for COVID vaccine. The Government of Nova Scotia is quickly rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine across the province based on two key principles:
- Providing access to vaccine to as many people as possible in order to develop population immunity as quickly as possible, as this will protect the entire population regardless of whether they have received COVID 19 vaccine or not;
- Sequencing eligibility for vaccine based on the main risk factor for severe disease, hospitalization and death from COVID-19, which is age.
Making specific medical conditions a priority would result in a much slower building of population immunity. Those who are older are at the greatest risk of severe symptoms due to COVID. Nova Scotia’s immunization program is focused on immunizing as many people, as quickly as possible, and protecting those at greatest risk. Making the vaccine available based on age is also the most efficient approach to mass immunization, which will result in more Nova Scotians receiving the vaccine sooner. Providing access to vaccine to as many people as possible will result in a quicker building of population immunity as quickly as possible, as this will protect the entire population regardless of whether they have received COVID 19 vaccine or not. Therefore, for the collective good of all Nova Scotians we have chosen to follow an age-based approach to COVID vaccine eligibility for the large majority of Nova Scotians.
The Government of Nova Scotia is quickly rolling out the COVID-19 vaccine across the province. A list of groups that will be vaccinated in Phases 1 and 2 is on our website: Coronavirus (COVID-19): vaccine – Government of Nova Scotia, Canada. Nova Scotians who do not receive the vaccine in Phases 1 or 2 will receive it in Phase 3, regardless of underlying health condition. There will be regular public communication as the vaccine rolls out to ensure Nova Scotians know when they may be able to get immunized. More information can be found here: https://novascotia.ca/coronavirus/vaccine/
In the meantime, we ask everyone to please be patient and watch for updates. In the meantime, we ask Nova Scotians to continue to be vigilant about the public health measures. At least for the initial phases of rolling out the vaccine, we still need to wear a mask, stay 2 metres/6 feet apart from others, practice proper hand hygiene, follow gathering limits, and stay home if you’re sick.
Thank you for taking the time to share your concerns.
Senior Executive Director
Public Health, Mental Health and Addictions, and Acute Care
Department of Health and Wellness