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Concerns over vaccination rates growing nationwide

VANCOUVER (NEWS1130) – As public health workers try to contain a measles outbreak in the eastern Fraser Valley, there are worries it could spread to the wider population.

The immunization rate has been declining for a decade across Canada resulting in comeback of some infectious diseases that were stamped out years ago, including measles, whooping cough and even tuberculosis in some communities.

“There are a few reasons for that. There are people who are opposed to vaccines due to philosophical, cultural or religious reasons,” says medical health officer Victoria Lee, with Fraser Health. “But there’s also a growing number of people who are hesitant to become vaccinated largely due to misconceptions and misinformation about the safety of vaccines.”

Lee also points to growing complacency — vaccine programs have been very effective at virtually eliminating many preventable diseases and many people just haven’t seen the effects of highly infectious viruses such as those that cause measles or mumps.

A 2013 report card from UNICEF found Canada’s immunization rate is 28th out of of 29 industrialized nations — 84-per cent — and it has been falling for a decade.

“Places in Africa, such as Tunisia and Eritrea, now have higher immunization rates than Canada’s. Older Canadians remember the death and disability that polio, diphtheria, whooping cough and even measles can bring,” Lisa Wolff, director, policy and education, UNICEF Canada told the Globe and Mail. “We’re putting a lot of our kids at risk of preventable diseases that can be devastating.”

Mt. Cheam Christian School in Chilliwack has been temporarily closed with two confirmed cases of measles and up to 100 students potentially infected with the virus.

Fraser Health’s Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Paul Van Buynder applauds the school’s decision to close and cancel a planned trip to Haiti but he says it’s frustrating that 25-30% of the surrounding community isn’t vaccinated, even though there are readily available vaccines.