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Wednesday, 18 February 2015 15:03

Vaccination is about the common good, not personal beliefs

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Measles cases in three different provinces in Canada and a multi-state measles outbreak in the United States have placed the importance of vaccinating in the spotlight.


Media reports indicated that 22 measles cases have occurred in Canada up to Feb. 14, with 11 in Ontario, 10 in Quebec and one in Manitoba.
The case in Manitoba is a young infant who is not yet old enough to be vaccinated and who recently returned with her family from a trip to India.
The cases in Ontario include adults and children of different ages, and none of them have recently travelled outside Canada.
Their vaccination histories are not all known, but a number of them have not been vaccinated and one case is an adult who has been vaccinated.
The measles strain in Ontario is different from the one in Quebec, where the 10 cases are linked to a recent outbreak at a Disneyland theme park in California.
In the United States, the outbreak started when a person contracted measles during an overseas trip and then visited the amusement park. The result was that 114 people from seven states were diagnosed with measles from Dec. 28 to Feb. 6.
Measles is a highly-contagious viral disease that still causes many childhood deaths around the world, despite the availability of a vaccine.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) the disease is still common in many developing countries and more than 95 per cent of measles deaths happen in countries with low per capital incomes and insufficient health infrastructure.
Globally there were 145,700 measles deaths in 2013, representing a decrease of 75 per cent compared to the estimated 544,200 deaths in 2000.
WHO considers routine measles vaccination and mass immunization campaigns to be key public health strategies to reduce death rates. It estimates that measles vaccination prevented about 15.6 million deaths between the years 2000 to 2013.
Canadians have benefitted from the success of immunization for many years. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, measles has basically been eliminated in the country since 1998, but cases still occur due to importations. There have been 1,429 confirmed measles cases in Canada from 1998 to 2013, with a median of 21.5 cases per year.
The highly-infectious nature of measles means 95 per cent of the population must be immunized to create herd immunity, because one new case can result in 12 to 18 other infections.
Public health authorities must therefore always be vigilant.
The findings of a new Angus Reid Institute survey of Canadian adults, which was released on Feb. 13, indicate that most people consider vaccinations to be effective to prevent disease for the person who receive the vaccine (88 per cent) and for the community as a whole (86 per cent).
Most parents (83 per cent) indicate they would definitely vaccinate their own children and 74 per cent of people say those who oppose vaccinations are irresponsible, but at the same time two in five Canadians (39 per cent) agree that the science on vaccinations is not quite clear.
Vaccinations for school attendance are only mandatory in Ontario and New Brunswick, but both provinces will grant exemptions. The Angus Reid survey shows broad support for such a requirement in most of the provinces, varying from 71 per cent in Alberta and Ontario to 67 per cent in Saskatchewan and 61 per cent in the Atlantic provinces. The only exception is Quebec, where just 45 per cent think childhood vaccinations should be mandatory.
These survey results indicate most Canadians appreciate the societal benefits of vaccinations to reduce or limit the spread of disease, even though many are not so confident in the science on vaccinations.
There are different reasons for such public skepticism about vaccinations, varying from religious beliefs to negative views about the pharmaceutical industry or simply hesitant parents who require more information.
For public health officials the challenge is to ensure high immunization coverage will continue and to improve the effectiveness of monitoring programs to identify areas where vaccination coverage are slipping. Awareness campaigns will also be increasingly important to counter the vocal anti-vaccination movement.
Those opposing vaccinations emphasize their freedom of choice, but in the prevention of very contagious and preventable diseases there is something even more important than personal choice — the necessity to act for the common good.
Matthew Liebenberg is a reporter with the Prairie Post. Contact him with your comments about this opinion piece at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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Matthew Liebenberg

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