Editorial

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine were injected into Canadian arms this week in what is optimistically being called “V-Day,” hopefully the beginning of the end of a public-health nightmare that has left death and economic destruction in its wake.

The media were out in force to record those joyous first shots with words, photographs and video, but that will not always be the case.

The first doses of COVID-19 vaccine were injected into Canadian arms this week in what is optimistically being called "V-Day," hopefully the beginning of the end of a public-health nightmare that has left death and economic destruction in its wake.

The media were out in force to record those joyous first shots with words, photographs and video, but that will not always be the case.

As the largest and most logistically complex mass-immunization campaign in Canadian history continues to roll out, typically the only ones on hand will be the person being injected and the person doing the injecting.

With lives on the line, the importance of monitoring every aspect of the two-shot vaccination process, including where and when adverse reactions occur, cannot be overstated.

As it stands, the provinces have been tasked with keeping track of who has been vaccinated and ensuring they come back on time for their second shot, which has raised concerns about important data potentially falling through the cracks of a piecemeal monitoring system.

Michael Wolfson, a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada, complained the current vaccination–monitoring system “sounds like a dog’s breakfast.”

In an opinion piece for the Globe & Mail, Michael Wolfson, a former assistant chief statistician at Statistics Canada, complained the current vaccination-monitoring system "sounds like a dog’s breakfast."

Wolfson argued the creation of a national database to collect critical information on every Canadian who is vaccinated for COVID-19 is essential to ensure the historic immunization program proceeds effectively, fairly and safely. It is a logical and compelling argument.

When provinces focus primarily on their own jurisdictions through their own electronic health databases, it is possible for the bigger picture to be lost, with potentially disastrous consequences.

"Standard adverse-event reporting systems in the U.S. and Canada missed the scandalous connection between (the arthritis and pain drug) Vioxx and heart attacks. Something more reliable is essential for COVID-19 vaccinations, not only for safety but to avoid misinformation from anti-vaxxers," Mr. Wolfson wrote.

Provincial governments are typically reluctant to relinquish any control over health care, arguing Ottawa’s role is to simply hand over cash with no strings attached, but a standardized system mandated by the federal government seems preferable to a patchwork approach in every province and territory.

In a letter to industry, the Public Health Agency of Canada said there are still “mission critical” upgrades needed to their existing computer systems to manage the inoculation campaign, which aims to have every Canadian who wants a shot vaccinated by the end of September.

As the first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arrived in Canada this week, however, the federal government acknowledged upgrades are needed to Canada’s vaccine-tracking technology.

In a letter to industry, the Public Health Agency of Canada said there are still "mission critical" upgrades needed to their existing computer systems to manage the inoculation campaign, which aims to have every Canadian who wants a shot vaccinated by the end of September.

Those systems are considered crucial to tracking vaccine supply chains, from the manufacturer to injection, monitoring storage and shelf life to avoid wasted doses, tracking adverse reactions, and monitoring progress in building immunity to the virus. The upgrades are expected to take months to bring online.

At a press conference on Monday, federal Procurement Minister Anita Anand said the upgrades are "required because of the complex and fragile nature of these vaccines. … In addition, we need to make sure that we have national capability for vaccine tracking."

With the novel coronavirus still surging around the country, one thing is disturbingly clear — Canada’s population, and the system for ensuring the safe rollout of a historic vaccination program, are both in urgent need of a shot in the arm.