Rexall, Amref Health Africa immunizing Ugandan children for every Canadian flu shot

Tamara Shephard
Etobicoke Guardian | February 4, 2015

Graham Atkinson, Amref Health Africa Programmes Coordinator, in Uganda

Graham Atkinson, AMREF in Canada’s programs co-ordinator, witnessed Rexall`s Shot for Shot program in action for 10 days in Uganda

This winter, your flu shot counts.

That’s the message of Rexall’s Shot for Shot campaign, which is providing life-saving vaccinations to northern Ugandan children in partnership with AMREF (African Medical and Research Foundation) Health Africa in Canada.

“Our ability to have social impact is not limited to our borders,” Rexall CEO Frank Scorpiniti said in a statement. “We hope Canadians will join us in our efforts to deliver life-saving vaccinations to children that need it most by getting the flu shot.”

For every flu vaccine a Rexall pharmacist administers, the company will make a donation toward delivering vaccines to northern Uganda where vaccination rates fall far below World Health Organization targets.

In Uganda, 48 per cent of children younger than five are not immunized or under-immunized, the 2011 Ugandan Demographic and Health Survey reported.

The campaign has delivered more than 94,000 vaccines by the end of last year, two months after it launched, AMREF reported.

Last week, a study concurred with the Public Health Agency of Canada’s report in December that this year’s Canadian flu vaccine has offered little to no protection against becoming ill enough to require medical care.

Nearly all flu infections so far in Canada have been caused by H3N2 flu viruses, with virtually all viruses different from the one in the vaccine, the study found.
The study is in Eurosurveillance , an online journal published by the European Centre for Disease Control.

The Public Health Agency of Canada reported this year’s flu vaccine still offers some protection against H3N2 and other influenza strains, such as H1N1 and B.
In response, a Rexall spokesperson said the flu shot still offers Canadians’ the best protection against illness.

“At Rexall, it’s our position that the flu shot is still the best way to protect yourself, your family and your co-workers,” Rexall spokesperson Derek Tupling said. “This is just one study.”

Etobicoke born and raised Graham Atkinson, AMREF in Canada’s programs co-ordinator, witnessed the Shot for Shot program in action for 10 days in late November.

Rugged and rural northern Uganda creates geographic and educational challenges to child vaccinations, Atkinson said.

“I saw a lot of barriers,” he said. “Roads are often in very poor condition. Nobody has a car. You see a few motorcycles. People walk or bicycle.

“You see women walking five kilometres with a baby on their back to the health centre to get a vaccine. That can be a barrier to following up on the immunization schedule.”

Each Ugandan parent receives a health card and immunization schedule for their children.

The schedule recommends vaccinations against polio, tuberculosis, diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough, hepatitis B, pneumonia influenza B, rota virus and measles, all to be administered before the child turns a year old.

Often, Ugandan health workers and volunteers will travel by bicycle or motorcycle to schools or markets to enable parents to more easily access vaccinations.

“To maintain a fridge (for vaccines) off the grid is often done on bicycle,” Atkinson said. “Workers load up a cooler with ice packs and a box full of supplies and load it onto their bicycle.”

Rexall’s Shot for Shot program responds to the United Nations’ (UN) Millennium Development Goal Number 4, Atkinson said.

That UN goal targets a two-thirds reduction by 2015 in child mortality among children younger than five.

The burden of disease in sub-Saharan Africa is such that when weighing the cost of delivering vaccines versus the cost of trying to treat children with preventable disease, treating disease is exponentially more expensive,” Atkinson said.

One in five children worldwide lack access to life-saving immunization. One child dies every 20 seconds from a vaccination-preventable disease, the Gates Foundation reported.

Jennifer Foulds
Director of Communications and Public Relations

Jennifer Foulds is the Director of Communications and Public Relations at AMREF Canada.

Want to interview an Amref Health Africa expert? Get in touch with our Director of Communications and PR, Jennifer Foulds.