April 29, 2022

Immunization essential to public health and safety, say UCalgary nurses

Nursing alumni share how all the talk around COVID vaccines actually helps immunization awareness
2022 Immunization Week

While vaccinations of all kinds have always been vital to global health, the COVID-19 pandemic has emphasized just how vital immunizations are in protecting us all from vaccine-preventable diseases. Immunizations are key to preventing many infectious diseases and maintaining the health and well-being of our communities.

National Immunization Awareness Week, April 23-30, presents an opportunity to highlight the collective ways nurses and health-care professionals are at the forefront of health-care delivery to provide evidence-based information to help inform decision-making on vaccines.

Harneek Kapoor, BN’21, is a UCalgary alum who graduated in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic. During his preceptorship, he signed up to volunteer at the OKAKI immunization clinic, along with many other UCalgary Nursing students and instructors, which prioritized COVID-19 vaccines for the urban Indigenous community. Shortly after, he started working at the Northgate Immunization Clinic in Calgary's northeast, run by Alberta Health Services Rapid Response.

“It’s a very efficient and large clinic. We would do hundreds of appointments per day,” says Kapoor of the amount of traffic he saw when COVID-19 vaccines first became available. “One of my biggest memories was immunizing my family, my mom, dad, my sister and a lot of my friends and giving them their first and second dose too.

Northgate Immunization Clinic

Kapoor, second from left, with colleagues at the Northgate Immunization Clinic in Calgary's northeast.

“I've seen how important vaccines really are. I've kind of transitioned into more public health and working with routine adult vaccinations and I’ve seen how much the community is involved and how people are starting to become more involved in taking initiative in their health,” he says. “It has motivated a lot people to put that at the forefront and everyone’s beginning to understand that even if it’s not for themselves, it’s for their families, their friends, their loved ones.

I really hope we can continue on with this where we make public health and immunizations a priority, make sure we're not forgetting about that and really realizing how important it is that we have protection as a community.

While COVID vaccines seemingly dominate the conversation these days, childhood and routine adult immunizations are just as important to highlight. Think of all the various immunizations we get for DTaP (Diptheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis) Hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox) to MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella), HPV and of course, our annual flu shots.

Debbie Laser, BN’93, is the Faculty of Nursing’s immunization co-ordinator, a role she has held since 2018. When nursing students are first admitted into the program, they need to supply their immunization records to Laser and show proof of childhood immunizations as well as ones they need as a health-care worker. She also tracks student’s N95 fit tests and results.

Debbie Laser BN'93

Debbie Laser is the Faculty of Nursing’s immunization co-ordinator.

Health-care workers need two doses of varicella for example, whereas the general population, unless you're born after August 1, 2005 would not have to have that,” says Laser. “Immunization is highly important for the students themselves and for the people they come in contact with and it can absolutely be lifesaving.”

Laser also continues to work in post-partum community services for AHS Rapid Response and Well Child clinics. Her nursing journey has spanned everything from neurosurgery and neo-natal intensive care to public health, where she handled school health and post-partum home visits, to seniors’ health and well-child clinics. “It was hard for me to decide between teaching and nursing but public health gives me a perfect mix of both worlds: it’s teaching health.”

Laser says one of the benefits of all this talk around COVID-19 vaccines is that immunization in general is more on people’s minds and more people are taking responsibility for their own health. She says, “Immunizations are one of the greatest things that has happened for our society. Immunization saves lives.”

At Staff Wellness, UCalgary Nursing alumni Brendan Webster, BN’09, and Eleasa Kerr, BN’18, both work tirelessly to keep our campus healthy and safe. Webster is the team lead of occupational health (a role he started at the outset of COVID in January 2020) and Kerr is an occupational health advisor.

“My job is to look at providing occupational health services for people who may have work-related health risks,” says Webster. His team handles things from hearing testing, respirator fit testing and health assessments to coordinating the annual flu clinics on campus.

“A big chunk of what we do is immunizations. Being a university, there's a lot of different types of research that go on here, such as people working with pathogens like strep bacteria or bacteria that cause meningitis. We have probably 500 to maybe 1,000 people handling human blood and body fluids on campus in research roles and there’s protection through immunization for those people.”

For the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine for example, Webster says Staff Wellness handles vaccinations for employees who work with animals and protect them against risk of rabies and tetanus.

Brendan Webster BN’09

Brendan Webster is team lead, Occupational Health, Staff Wellness.

UCalgary files

With COVID-19, Webster was on a number of committees that oversaw all the moving parts involved in handling a safe return to campus including disinfecting and cleaning protocols, protective equipment training and signage and updating information communicated on the risk website. He also provided guidance around worksite safety plans and updated protocols for various departments. He was at the table with emergency management, HR and student wellness and part of the team that was responsible for bringing the 19 to Zero vaccine bus to campus to administer immunizations to faculty, staff and students. 

When the cases were rising during the Delta wave, Kerr was integral to contact tracing on campus. “I did mostly the contact tracing on the ground, giving people calls, sending out updates on classes.” To this day, she still does most of the vaccinations on campus, administering those herself and doing the majority of PPE training.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure,” says Kerr. “I would always encourage people to get vaccinated. Vaccines help reduce overall illness for individuals and communities alike. That's why it matters; it affects you and it affects everyone else.”

Adds Webster: “Immunization is one of the safest, most effective ways to prevent a lot of harm and illness for people.”

World Immunization Week, celebrated in the last week of April, aims to highlight the collective action needed and to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease. The World Heath Organization works with countries across the globe to raise awareness of the value of vaccines and immunization and ensures that governments obtain the necessary guidance and technical support to implement high-quality immunization programmes. The ultimate goal of World Immunization Week is for more people – and their communities – to be protected from vaccine-preventable diseases.