Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Tuesday March 30, 2021
Canada falls behind on barcode technology for COVID-19 vaccine tracking
Millions of COVID-19 vaccines set to pour into Canada will carry a tiny barcode that would allow the package to be tracked all along the supply chain, and could even help to connect a patient’s digital vaccination record to a specific dose. That level of tracking is taking place in other countries such as the United States – but won’t happen in Canada because the country lacks the technology to scan those barcodes.
It’s a frustrating gap for those who have been pushing for such an ability since the 1990s. As a recent Deloitte report on the COVID-19 vaccination campaign pointed out, these barcodes can go a long way to “reduce errors and improve efficiency and safety.”
The technology is available – cellphones and tablets can scan these barcodes with the right software. But the barcode issue reveals larger problems with Canada’s fragmented and outdated health infrastructure – it involves 14 jurisdictions doing 14 different things, sacrificing efficiency for independence.
Currently, some provinces are tracking supplies by manually updating spreadsheets and logging by hand the lot number of administered vaccines. Ontario and Quebec have devised a more advanced database of their available vaccines, but it still relies on someone manually entering the serial numbers of vaccine shipments.
Other countries have figured this out: Vaccinators in the U.S. are scanning COVID-19 vaccine shipments and individual doses, allowing states to build accurate and timely databases of who has been vaccinated. Ireland and Turkey are also relying on these barcodes. The World Health Organization is encouraging every country to use them to promote efficiency and fight counterfeiting.
n Canada “should have been written in the pandemic plan.”
There was a plan to make these barcodes central to Canada’s public-health system, and there was a time when Canada was ahead in digitizing its health system “by a decade,” Dr. Van Exan said. Canada’s 1998 vaccine strategy first proposed barcoding vaccines to promote efficiency and accuracy. The 2003 SARS epidemic, and the creation of the Public Health Agency of Canada, hastened that work.
In normal times, Canada administers millions of vaccines a year for diseases such as mumps and influenza. Provinces slowly adopted digitized immunization records in the early 2000s, but continued entering all the data manually: Audits of some provincial systems found fully 15 per cent of immunization records were incomplete, nearly a quarter had inaccurate information, and crucial data was missing from one in five adverse-reaction reports. (Continued: Globe & Mail)