Vaccinations a struggle without family doctor

One Nova Scotian woman is frustrated by the lack of primary care options for her child.

Jennifer Fox has had a difficult time finding vaccinations for her son. - LENNY MULLINS
Jennifer Fox has had a difficult time finding vaccinations for her son.

When Jennifer Fox moved to Nova Scotia in 2015, she, like many other Nova Scotians, requested to be put on a waiting list for a family doctor.

In the meantime, she got pregnant.

“That actually was the only way I was able to get a family doctor, because in the hospital given that you have a newborn, they kind of assign you a family doctor,” Fox explains.

With a family doctor to call, Fox was able to get her son’s routine vaccinations for two and four months. However, when she called to schedule the next round of shots, she was told her doctor had left the practice.

She says she was given no notice and no one had any information for her.

Now Fox is left back where she started three years ago, except this time with a one-year-old who needs to get routine vaccines.

Currently, in Nova Scotia, there are over 50,000 people waiting to get assigned a family practitioner, or roughly six percent of the province’s population. That waitlist means access to routine vaccinations for newborns and young children aren’t easy to come by.

Robert Strang, chief medical officer for the NSHA, says the correlation between immunization rates in Nova Scotia and decreasing primary care options is somewhat hard to make, due in part to the lack of data.

“We actually don’t have a good system for monitoring our vaccination rates,” he says. “It’s one of the challenges we have...We can’t robustly measure and monitor.”

The NSHA is working on a system for a new immunization registry called Panorama. Lori McCracken, health protection manager for the northern zone of the province, hopes this new database will help public health find out where people are experiencing barriers and how best to help them.

“We can always do better,” she says.

Last year, Halifax saw several cases of measles and mumps outbreak. Ryan Sommers of the NSHA says this wasn’t a correlation to the doctor shortage in Nova Scotia specifically, but rather a warning sign for all about what can happen when you don’t immunize.

But getting a vaccination isn’t easy without a doctor. Vaccines can only be given through a primary care physician or through the NSHA, which provides alternative arrangements for people who don’t have access to a family doctor, such as walk-in clinics. But there are none of those alternatives on the peninsula or in Dartmouth, says Fox. Fox relies on transit and is a single mom who’s back working part-time.

“If these are the barriers that people are encountering, I wouldn’t be surprised if people just don’t even do it. Or if they have the intentions of doing it and things get in the way,” she says.

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