The Bucket:’ An Innovative Approach to Vaccine Management


Did you know that every year health-care providers immunize thousands of people across the region?

Immunization is important because it helps to protect people from becoming sick with a communicable disease, such as influenza, Hepatitis B or measles, reducing the risk to themselves and others.

Vaccine management is essential for effective immunization, and as a health authority, Eastern Health’s Public Health Division is responsible for ensuring vaccines are available where they are needed the most, in a timely and efficient manner.

This is the reason behind the successful creation of ‘The Bucket,’ a secure vaccine management system that enables public health employees to store, tally and distribute vaccines better than ever before. This is the story of how ‘The Bucket’ came to be.

Theresa Kent – Vaccine Clerk at Eastern Health

In the beginning: The Bucket

A few years back, folks from Eastern Health’s Communicable Disease Control and Public Health Nursing programs collaborated with their colleagues in the Healthcare Technology and Data Management department to form ‘The Bucket’ team. The name, ‘The Bucket,’ was used to refer to the idea of a computer surveillance system that, much like a bucket, would store public health-related information and data. The goal was for nurses and clinical specialists to have a vaccine management system that was intuitive and easy to use.

The team followed a grass-roots approach during the development of this application. From the very beginning, they engaged front-line staff – the future users of the system – to gather information and to seek input in outlining critical requirements.

In 2014, the first phase of ‘The Bucket’ was launched. The IT application was influenza-focused, and it streamlined and eliminated much of the paper work required to report on the flu season.

It was a great success. Through this innovative technology, nurses were able to order influenza vaccine for their specific site, and were able to transfer vaccines to other sites, if required. The system also enabled public health nurses to add influenza tallies, so they could see how many people had been vaccinated, their age group and where in the region they received the vaccine, thereby facilitating quick access to reliable public health surveillance information. 

Juanita Burke, project manager with Eastern Health’s Healthcare Technology and Data Management department

Story progress: Ongoing expansion

Since then, work has focused on perfecting the first version of ‘The Bucket,’ including the addition of new team members and partners. Karen Colbourne, for example, is a public health officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada, who was placed within Eastern Health to continue to support the advancement of this application.

(l-r): Karen Colbourne, public health officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Keith Harding, public health program manager, and Shianne Combden, clinical information specialist with Eastern Health

Further, in September 2017, a significant milestone was reached when ‘The Bucket’ was successfully expanded to include all public health vaccine inventory!

What’s more, the application is planned to expand beyond vaccine management.

Plans to further broaden ‘The Bucket’ are in place for 2018, where the application will also become a reporting and surveillance system for communicable disease, providing a way to enhance monitoring of infectious diseases that may be circulating around the region, such as tuberculosis, meningitis, syphilis, HIV among others.


(l-r): Karen Colbourne, public health officer with the Public Health Agency of Canada and Shianne Combden, clinical information specialist with Eastern Health

Looking toward the future

Eastern Health’s application, proudly built in-house and through much consultation and collaboration with front-line users, has a very unique and common-sense approach, and one that has attracted a variety of interest from health regions around Canada, including the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia.

One of the reasons it has worked so well is in large part because of the positive working relationship between the database developers and the front-line health-care providers. It is through this relationship that the team was able to quickly and efficiently meet users’ needs, troubleshoot problems, fix technical ‘bugs’ and discuss reporting requirements in detail.

(l-r): Stephen Mouland, computer programmer/analyst; Juanita Burke, project manager and Dave Pynn, computer programmer/analyst with Eastern Health’s Healthcare Technology and Data Management department

Greater efficiency

The modules within the application are dynamic, designed to expand to meet changing needs, policy and technology. Overall, ‘The Bucket’ supports Eastern Health’s sustainability efforts as it contributes to greater efficiency in vaccine management.

More importantly, the enhanced vaccine inventory made possible by ‘The Bucket,’ ultimately enables health providers to have vaccine readily available to ensure patients, residents, clients and families are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, thereby helping to improve the overall health of the population.

For the team behind its creation, the collaboration and dedication that has gone into the ‘The Bucket,’ and the opportunities that it affords for improved public health surveillance, are a true success story.

This story was written by Karen Colbourne, public health officer, Public Health Agency of Canada; Shianne Combden, clinical information specialist and Keith Harding, public health program manager with Eastern Health.

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