Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of attending an event hosted by Sanofi Pasteur for National Seniors Day at the Richmond-Adelaide Centre in Toronto. As I entered, all I saw were the beaming faces of seniors being celebrated – and not just those personally present. A giant photo exhibit was erected, depicting images that had been sent in by the public specifically to show us all how seniors are incredible pillars of strength in our society. Inspiring quotes describing the positive impacts our senior loved ones have on society were interspersed throughout.
Inspiring Attendees at National Seniors Day
Meeting several inspiring seniors, they gave me their tips and tricks to stay healthy and vibrant. Anna Dohler turned 80 in May and went back to university at 47! She attributes her love of life and great health to the volunteer work she does with the Toronto Opera, her church, Illuminato Festival, and Nuit Blanche. Sandra Jones will be 80 in January and was recently honoured by the Accomplished Black Women of Canada. Her advice? Sleep at the same time every night after a glass of red wine and drink lots of water throughout the day. I will try that!
But not all seniors are this healthy and strong. The event was incredibly successful in raising awareness of the importance of protecting them during the upcoming flu season. The flu is often seen as just a bad cold, but Canada sees an average of 12,200 flu-related hospitalizations and 3,500 deaths each year. Seniors account for up to 70 percent of these hospitalizations and up to 91 percent of deaths between 2013 and 2018.
Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director of Canadian Frailty Network spoke to the fact that the standard flu vaccine is approximately 50% less effective in those over 65 than in younger healthy adults.
Hospitalization Caused by Flu in Seniors
Marissa Lennox, Chief Policy Officer at CARP noted that due to weakening immune systems, adults 65 and older have lower responses to infections, greater susceptibility to the flu, and are at high risk for complications or hospitalization if they do get the flu. One-third of elderly flu victims leave the hospital with a reduced ability to carry out their daily activities. This means that the standard of life for them and their loved ones can be affected significantly after a severe flu. The trickle-down effect means that the younger generation needs to provide extra care if their parents become ill. There is an ensuing loss of productivity in the workforce and stress in caring for their own families. The lives of everyone change irrevocably. And it’s preventable with the higher-dose vaccine.
Inequality in the Availability of Flu Shots Across Canada
There’s a bit of a snag, though. Not everywhere in Canada is equal when it comes to access to the vaccine. The Hon. Christine Elliott, Deputy Premier and Minister of Health pointed out that Ontario is actually the only province to offer the higher dose vaccine free of charge to all adults 65+.
Ontario has many initiatives for seniors, because by 2036 the Canadian senior population is expected to grow significantly from 6.4 to 10.3 million. Last year, the Ontario Government announced that the higher dose influenza vaccine would be provided free of charge to all seniors as part of the Ontario Universal Influenza Immunization Program, which started in the 2018-19 flu season. Manitoba, Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, the Northwest Territories and Prince Edward Island offer the vaccine to those in long-term care facilities.
All seniors deserve the best chance at protection and we have to do better as a society to protect the older generation.
After the event, we were all encouraged to share photos of our own loved ones on social media using the hashtag #Sanofiforseniors. Each share triggered a $2 donation to Wish of a Lifetime. I delighted in sharing my images, and am so glad that awareness is spreading.
Now I think we have to all start pressing our provincial governments to make this higher-dose vaccine available to each and every senior throughout this great country, no matter which province or territory they happen to reside in!
Disclosure: This post is sponsored by Sanofi Pasteur. All opinions are my own.