VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – If you’re on social media, your Facebook page is probably overflowing with people concerned about the measles outbreak that’s hit Metro Vancouver.
But what can we do to convince anti-vaxxers they need to change their ways, allowing their children to receive vaccines that will provide protection for them and those with compromised immune systems who cannot be inoculated?
Dr. Isaac Bogoch with the University of Toronto says one thing he’s seeing is a requirement of proof of vaccination for joining sports teams or going to certain schools. But he notes this is a complicated discussion and a variety of approaches may be needed.
“It’s kind of tricky to have an appropriate approach to this,” said Bogoch, who specializes in infectious diseases. “Things like reason and logic don’t seem to work all the time, and I don’t think there’s going to be one cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach to combating this misinformation.”
There’s a certain disconnect here.
People in developing countries are crying out for vaccines, as measles outbreaks hit their unprotected populations. Meanwhile, here and in places like Europe, a portion of the population refuses to allow their children to recieve immunization.
Last week, Vancouver Coastal Health confirmed eight cases of the measles. Another, unrelated case was confirmed the week before, bringing the total number of cases this month to nine.
“Nobody should be surprised that there’s a measles outbreak right now in a part of Canada,” Dr. Bogoch said.
“No one should be surprised that there’s a measles outbreak in Washington, and Europe is having its largest measles outbreak in decades because with multiple factors — including vaccine hesitancy — you don’t need a crystal ball to predict that this is going to happen when you have imported cases of measles and you have a population that’s not really at the threshold for having what we call ‘herd immunity.’ This is going to spread through a non-immune population like wildfire.”
He says outbreaks such as this measles one are “completely preventable.”
“We don’t need to have these. Now, we may have a sporadic case that’s imported and unfortunately there are parts of the world — many developing countries — that have lots of measles cases because there’s less access to health care and public health infrastructure. But in countries like Canada, where we have terrific health care access, and where we have a safe, effective and widely available vaccine, these outbreaks are completely preventable.”
While Dr. Bogoch says health experts and policymakers are still fine-tuning the conversation around the importance of vaccines, he doesn’t endorse shaming — he believes that will only further polarize the discussion on this topic.
The outbreak in our region began after an unvaccinated child contracted the disease on a family trip to Vietnam.
Kids as young as 12 asking to be vaccinated
The president of Doctors of B.C. says the silver lining to the recent outbreaks is he’s seen a rise in the number of parents who previously didn’t vaccinate their kids coming into his office.
“They’re starting to expand their network across more reputable sources of information,” Dr. Eric Cadesky said. “That leads them to make the decision that the vaccine is safe and effective.”
He says he’s even seeing kids asking to be vaccinated.
“Youth as young as 12 years old are also coming into contact with newer and better sources of information that lead them to decide that the decisions that their parents made for them were not, in the end, in their best interest,” Cadesky said.
In B.C., minors deemed capable can make decisions about their own health.
The BC Centre for Disease Control says the province has a plentiful supply of vaccines, should parents wish to vaccinate their children or if adults are uncertain of their vaccination history.
Clinics that offer vaccinations can be found on the Immunize BC website.
Measles causes high fever, coughing, sneezing, and a widespread painful rash. The infection can lead to serious complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis and can be fatal.
People who cannot be vaccinated, including infants, people with certain underlying health conditions and those undergoing chemotherapy, rely on high levels of immunity within communities to protect them from the disease.
– With files from Dean Recksiedler and the Canadian Press