COVID-19 vaccines: What we are doing

Heart & Stroke advocates for people at high risk to get priority access

COVID-19 vaccines are being rolled out across the country in a phased approach by each province and territory and Heart & Stroke has been working to raise awareness around the importance of timely access to vaccines for high risk and vulnerable populations. 

As part of these efforts, Heart & Stroke, along with 12 other health charities, sent this letter (below) to the federal Health Minister requesting that these populations, including people with certain chronic conditions who are at high-risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, be prioritized for early access to COVID-19 vaccines. Similar letters were sent to various provincial governments. Heart & Stroke also endorsed a Call to Action statement for provincial governments and sent a follow up letter to the federal government along with other health charities urging more timely access to second doses of the vaccine for at risk populations.

Letter to the minister

Feb. 25, 2021
The Honourable Patty Hajdu, P.C., M.P.
Minister of Health

Dear Minister Hajdu,

We would like to thank you and your department for your diligence and dedication working alongside many partners throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

We write to you today requesting your leadership in ensuring that all high-risk and vulnerable populations are prioritized for early access to COVID-19 vaccines under current provincial and territorial immunization strategies ahead of the general population.

Many entities have called for the prioritization of high-risk and vulnerable populations in vaccine rollout, including Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), the Canadian Medical Association, the Canadian Thoracic Society, the United Kingdom’s Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunization, the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunization and the U.S. Centre for Disease Control. 

According to these expert groups, high-risk and vulnerable populations include: those of advanced age, frontline health workers and those whose work contributes to the COVID-19 response, people at high-risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, those most likely to transmit COVID-19 to those at high-risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19, workers contributing to the maintenance of other essential services for the functioning of society, and people whose living and/or working conditions put them at elevated risk of infection and where infection could have disproportionate consequences, including Indigenous communities. 

Our organizations support this broad definition of priority populations and a health equity approach, which we understand to include those living with certain chronic conditions.

Despite the above noted guidance, most provincial and territorial immunization plans across the country do not list people living with certain chronic conditions who are at high-risk of severe illness and death from COVID-19 as a population to be prioritized for vaccination, along with other high-risk groups ahead of the general population. We urgently ask that you raise this concern with your fellow health ministers at the provincial and territorial levels and also request that the provinces/territories follow the recently updated guidance for the vaccination prioritization put forward by NACI on Feb. 16, 2021.

It is our understanding that NACI is planning to further nuance the list of underlying conditions that should be prioritized for vaccination in its guidance from Feb. 16, 2021. To that end we urge NACI to move forward quickly with this work and we also strongly encourage Health Canada/PHAC to reflect NACI’s recommendations in its policies, documents, advice to provinces/territories and public materials.

Our organizations have strived to be supportive partners in Canada’s response to COVID-19. At the outset of this pandemic, our organizations pivoted quickly to promote public health guidance and provide other support and resources to meet the increased needs of people living with our respective conditions and their caregivers. We now must respond to ensure they are prioritized for vaccinations, along with other high-risk populations ahead of the general population.

As your government focuses on vaccinating the country, we will continue to use our communications channels to remind Canadians to stay vigilant and follow public health measures and to promote and encourage mass vaccination.

Thank you for your consideration.