TORONTO, March 16, 2022 — Ontario’s doctors say COVID-19 won’t be the last pandemic or global health crisis to potentially overburden the health-care system, and there are lessons learned that can help the province prepare.
Ontario Medical Association President Dr. Adam Kassam said planning for the next pandemic starts with a robust public health system that has the necessary resources to protect the entire population’s health.
“But being pandemic ready goes further than that,” he said at an OMA media briefing. “We are also recommending requiring by legislation a provincial pandemic plan that is updated every five years.”
The plan would include a standardized pandemic blueprint across public health units and adequate resources to allow Public Health Ontario to be the central scientific lab during a pandemic or other public health emergency, he said.
The full set of recommendations by doctors on what’s required to prepare for the next pandemic can be found as part of a report on how to fix the gaps in the health-care system called Prescription for Ontario: Doctors’ 5-Point Plan for Better Health Care.
Prof. Jennifer Gommerman, a professor and Canada Research Chair at the Department of Immunology in the Temerty Faculty of Medicine at the University of Toronto, said vaccines have demonstrated their effectiveness in preventing severe COVID-19. But, to prepare for future pandemics, we need second-generation vaccines that provide protection in the nose and mouth, the parts of the body where people encounter the virus.
“These would be in the form of an intranasal boost that builds on the immunity we get from a shot in the arm and trains the immune system to go to that location so that it’s ready… That’s something Canadians should really shoot for in the future as we prepare for the next pandemic.”
Dr. Ross Upshur, a physician at Hennick Bridgepoint Hospital and head of the division of clinical public health at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the capacity to use genetic sequencing to give insight into the evolving nature of the viral pandemic has been “the real star of the show,” in terms of technological advances in the COVID response, and will be key in this and future pandemics.
“The identification of variants of concern is of interest to global collaboration and networks,” he said, pointing out that “pandemics are global events and we’re only as strong as the weakest link in the global community.”
A public inquiry into Ontario’s handling of the pandemic would help ensure lessons have been learned from COVID-19, he said, but only if there are mechanisms in place to evaluate whether an inquiry’s recommendations are being acted on.
“I can assure you, the only lessons we’ve learned from previous epidemics is that we don’t like to learn lessons,” Dr. Upshur said. “This is an opportunity to not repeat mistakes from the past and create a system that’s resilient.”
Dr. Samantha Green, a family physician at St. Michael’s Hospital and faculty lead in climate change and health in the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto, said the next global health crisis may not be caused by a virus.
More likely, she said, is that the next threats to our health-care system result from the effects of climate change.
“Even as we continue to experience morbidity, mortality and health system threats from the COVID-19 pandemic, the climate crisis remains the bigger threat,” Dr. Green said.
“Over the last year alone, at just 1.2 degrees of (global) warming, close to 700 people died in B.C.’s heat dome event, crops failed in Manitoba droughts, flooding took out entire communities in B.C. and Newfoundland, and wildfires engulfed large parts of Western Canada and northern Ontario.”
The World Health Organization has called climate change the biggest health threat of this century, she said, and devastating effects to health and health systems are confirmed to show over the next several decades unless climate change is addressed.
The OMA will be discussing the effects of climate change on health care in more detail at the next OMA Talks event on April 21, the eve of Earth Day. Learn about OMA Talks. Registration for the climate change panel featuring astronaut and environmentalist Dr. Robert Bondar will be announced soon on OMA.org and on the OMA’s social media channels.
The Ontario Medical Association represents Ontario’s 43,000-plus physicians, medical students and retired physicians, advocating for and supporting doctors while strengthening the leadership role of doctors in caring for patients. Our vision is to be the trusted voice in transforming Ontario’s health-care system.
For more information, please contact:
Leslie Shepherd, OMA Director of Earned and Social Media