Connecting immunization records with handheld devices

By Anita Grace –

A recent outbreak of measles in Ottawa’s west end had people scrambling to find vaccination records for themselves and their children. But those with the new ImmunizeCA app could have simply checked their smartphones to see if their immunizations were up to date.

ImmunizeCA is a free app that helps people keep track of their vaccinations – what they have and what they need. Parents can store all their children’s immunization data in one handy-to-access place.

“The primary idea was to empower individuals to manage their own health information,” says app developer Dr. Kumanan Wilson from his office at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

 The inspiration behind Dr. Kumanan Wilson’s new app came from a conversation that took place at McKellar Park. Photo by Kate Settle.
The inspiration behind Dr. Kumanan Wilson’s new app came from a conversation that took place at McKellar Park. Photo by Kate Settle.

Wilson had the idea for ImmunizeCA following a conversation with friend and fellow Westboro resident Lesley Keenan in 2011. Keenan told Wilson how frustrated she was with paper immunization records. She wondered why she could do her banking on her smartphone, but not have her family’s vaccination records stored there.

“That made sense to me,” Wilson says. But although he enjoys using his iPhone, he admits he had no idea how to write an app. So he brought up the idea with Cameron Bell, a McGill engineering student. Three months later, Bell presented him with a demo.

In November 2012, Wilson and Bell launched ImmunizeON, an app for Ontario iPhone users. Building on the feedback they received from this app, they continued to improve the tool.

In March of this year, with the support of the Canadian Public Health Association, Immunize Canada and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, they launched the nation-wide version of the app – ImmunizeCA. The bilingual tool can be downloaded at no cost for iPhones, Android smartphones, and BlackBerry devices.

“It’s a great initiative,” says Dawn Grakist, supervisor with Ottawa Public Health’s immunization program. “We’re all really proud that it has come out of Ottawa.”

In addition to helping people keep track of their vaccinations, Grakist notes that one of the benefits of this app is that it will let people easily access their records in case of an emergency or an infectious disease outbreak.

Wilson, who is a pandemic planning expert, knows that parents often misplace their children’s little yellow immunization records and may end up with multiple, incomplete record books for the
same child and not be aware of missed vaccinations.

McKellar Park resident Alecia O’Brien admits that she has four immunization records for her two children. O’Brien hopes that having the records in one place will help her stay on top of vaccinations.

“It’s also helped me realize I have two upcoming immunizations for my son,” she says. “I added that reminder to my calendar – that’s a big help.”

The app provides reminders of required vaccines based on provincial or territorial schedules. It also alerts people to outbreaks in their area.

While this current version is essentially a tool for people to manage their health records, Wilson hopes it will “integrate with other tools to be part of a comprehensive solution to managing immunizations.” In the future the public may also be able to use it to provide proof of immunization, such as when registering kids for school.

O’Brien says this app is definitely a step in the right direction toward a more integrated and responsive public health system. “I’m going to use it for both kids moving forward.”

For more information on the app and how to download it, visit immunize.ca.

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