Canadian parents doubt the vaccine for measles, a highly contagious disease

By Kate Sparrow, CNN • Updated 30th May 2019

If you’re not vaccinating your child, you might want to stop reading now.

A new survey from the University of Toronto and Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa suggests that two-thirds of parents in Toronto are likely or certain they’ll get their children vaccinated against a highly contagious strain of measles.

The survey, which took place last June, included 3,738 people from across Canada. It found that 56% of people from Toronto and 54% of those from other parts of Canada were “certain or somewhat likely” to get their children vaccinated against the COVID-19 strain of measles, which was not on the national vaccination list before last month.

The survey found that more than half of Canadian parents of unvaccinated children do not know there is an unvaccinated outbreak in South Vancouver — a large community of senior citizens — according to Nancy Parkinson, a pediatrician and associate professor of pediatrics at Toronto’s University Health Network, who led the study.

“It’s the people who don’t want their child to get the vaccine who are so quick to dismiss the disease, the risk to the public, when they get exposed,” said Parkinson, a medical director of the Toronto Vaccine Centre.

“It’s not that they’re misinformed, it’s that they don’t think the vaccine is effective or they believe there’s a possibility of side effects. They’re real fears, but these perceptions are greatly exaggerated, based on fear of the unknown.”

In addition to children and some adults, the survey included 80,783 children and 902 adults from across Canada, who were not receiving the MMR vaccine, which protects against measles, mumps and rubella.

The survey found that fewer people from Vancouver than those from other parts of Canada who were vaccinated against COVID-19 knew about the outbreak in the city, according to Parkinson.

In recent years, there have been several outbreaks of measles across the globe. In 2017, the UN World Health Organization estimated that there were 65,000 measles cases globally, based on the estimate of only confirmed cases, as most cases go unreported.

“This is obviously a highly contagious disease,” Parkinson said. “Measles can last up to one week in some cases and you can still experience mild illness. Your facial sores, which is an indicator of measles, may last up to 10 days.

“People can pass on the virus to others within two hours of exposure — you just don’t know when you may have come into contact with the virus,” she said.

Immunizations are recommended to all children in Canada, regardless of age, age of vaccination or health status.

The government of Canada’s Immunization Division recommends vaccinations for children who are 0 to 18 months of age against six different types of vaccines.

Last October, Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care and the Ontario Immunization Program announced that they were prepared to prevent the spread of measles after an outbreak of measles was confirmed in that province.

“We encourage Ontario residents who are in areas where measles is circulating to consider getting their measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine and anyone in a household who has not received the recommended two doses of the MMR vaccine to call their health care provider to arrange vaccination if they are unsure if they have been vaccinated,” the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said in a statement at the time.

The measles outbreak in Vancouver is ongoing, and the virus continues to circulate, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care said in its statement.

“We expect that measles outbreaks will occur in communities where children may not be vaccinated, and that the national immunization program will be compromised,” it said.

The government and public health agencies want people “to take health seriously and ensure they get vaccinated against measles and other infectious diseases such as whooping cough, tetanus and tuberculosis.”

“These factors are important for our health — for our own health, our families’ health and community health — so we need to remain vigilant,” the statement said.

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