Spotty vaccination records can leave Canada’s military families vulnerable

jackihbrownJacki Hollywood Brown has been a military spouse for almost 25 years. In that time, she has lived in four Canadian provinces and two different countries. She maintains a regular blog at Canadian Army Wife.



Editor's note: This blog was originally published at Canadian Army Wife.

I’m pretty diligent about keeping our family’s vaccination records, but I bet there are not a lot of people that are so diligent.

In most provinces, you get a small folded bit of paper at birth (actual size 10 x 15 cm) on which to record all the vaccinations for your entire life. You must keep this little paper safe at all times and take it with you to every immunization appointment.

What if the vaccination card is:

  • stored in a pocket and goes through the wash and gets destroyed?
  • kept in your wallet and your wallet is stolen?
  • is just plain old lost?

Ah, you’re thinking you just go to your family doctor and he or she will have all of the records.

Not so fast!

If you’re a military family, you may have just moved, and you don’t have a family doctor. You can’t get your medical records shipped from your old doctor because he or she will only ship them to a new doctor. There is also the possibility that you got your vaccinations from a public health nurse or school nurse who doesn’t necessarily pass on the information to your family doctor. You might try to get the information from the public health unit in your former province, but if you don’t have your health card number from way back then, your records probably won’t be found.

To make matters worse, vaccinations schedules are different in almost every province.

The main immunizations (diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella) are pretty much consistent. However, the schedule of other vaccinations such as chicken pox, HPV, and hepatitis A and B are different or optional.

Canada has an immunization schedule tool, but it is useless if you were born before 2009 or if you’ve lived in 4 different provinces and, heaven forbid, you move from one province to another when you’re in the middle of receiving a series of vaccines.

What happens if parents don’t bother to keep records and have moved frequently?

Canada, you NEED a national health records system.

What are your suggestions to make immunization and health care better for Canadian military families?

5 thoughts on “Spotty vaccination records can leave Canada’s military families vulnerable

  1. scurrie2014

    As a former military brat, I can attest to the difficulty my family had keeping track of just my vaccinations and immunization schedules. I must have had at least 3 immunization cards over the course of my childhood. National health records would go a long way to remedying this and other problems mobile families face with continuity of care.

  2. Debbie Reid

    I'm a UK military wife here in Canada. In the UK each child has a red health book which everything gets recorded in. It is given out when the child is born and brought home from the hospital. The book has pro Dina sheets in it which get completed at each health check and vaccination appointment and the boom stays with the family. This way the drs update their records and the book also gets updated so the family has an up to date record too.

  3. Katherine Atkinson

    This type of story is exactly why we created ImmunizeCA. ImmunizeCA is a free app, developed at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in partnership with the Canadian Public Health Association which allows you to track vaccinations on your mobile phone. It'll give you a customized schedule (for kids and adults) based on your age, gender and province of residence. There's even a feature which helps you navigate schedules when you move provinces. You can also back up your records to the cloud, so even if you lose your phone (or put it through the wash), you can recover your vaccination records quickly and easily.

    Check out the app, availiable on iTunes and Google Play. We' d love to know if we can do anything to improve the tool or make it easier to use for Canada’s military families.

    You can find the app here:

    1. scurrie2014

      Hi Katherine,
      It'd be great if there were a desktop version of the app for those who don't have Android, iOS or Blackberry smartphones. For example, I use a Windows phone, and my husband doesn't have a personal smart phone (he's not allowed to download apps to his DND-issued Blackberry).

  4. Reposting my comment from Canadian Army Wife's blog...

    This is a HUGE issue in military family life, now more so than ever with the resurgence of herd immunity discussions. Trying to make a public health nurse understand that yes, my children are fully immunized, and no, I don’t have proof, because proof is somewhere in an unopened box because it came home from the last province’s school system two days before the packers arrived. And also no, I don’t have a family doctor you can call because it’s really not worth it for me to go through the hassle of the ‘initial appointments’ (read a waste of at least 3 hours of my precious time) on a two year posting. And also no, I don’t want you to give my child a vaccination ahead of the one schedule I’m adhering to (namely Ontario). And no, the fact that it is free in this province at this age doesn’t matter to me.

    I am completely pro-vaccine. I think it’s ridiculous to not vaccinate your kids if they are old enough and healthy enough to do so. But the amount of work it takes to maintain accurate records when we move from system to system every one to three years is a true thorn in my side. And the amount of grief I’ve received from school boards and public health nurses for trying to maintain a schedule that doesn’t match their exact timeline would drive anyone to lose their temper. I’ve been made to feel like a BAD PARENT more than once because I refused an ‘out of order’ vaccine. It was particularly difficult during our two years in the US as our drug approval system is slower than theirs. If a vaccine is not approved in Canada, my children will not be getting it. I also particularly like how Ontario sends nasty letters to parents who have been out of country, warning them that failure to provide accurate vaccination records will result in their child’s expulsion from school.

    I agree wholeheartedly. Canada, you NEED a national health record system. You NEED to regulate vaccination requirements for educational institutions on a national level. So many different entities give vaccines now, (doctors offices, public health nurses, school nurses, pharmacies...) it's hard to keep track of the different slips of paper that come home. And Canada, you NEED to support your military families as they navigate health care from province to province and country to country.


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