Today, more than ever before in the past, an onslaught of information is thrown our way, telling us what we should and should not do – oftentimes, from opposing points of view. Consequently, the onus is often placed on us to sift through this information and follow what we believe to the best and most valid advice. Frankly, it’s not always an easy task.
A heated conversation taking place today concerns the value of childhood vaccines, such as the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine. Recent outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the measles, in the developed world have been both alarming and concerning. Among high-income developed nations, the vaccination rate for Canadian children in particular is 84% – a staggering 11% below the average and making it one of only three OECD nations with a rate below 90%. Diseases that were almost non-existent about a decade ago have re-surfaced in outbreaks across the developed world – why? A part of this answer has to do with parental vaccine-hesitancy.
According to a recent survey by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), about one quarter of Canadian parents have not kept their children up-to-date with their vaccinations. However, not all parents who don’t vaccinate their children have completely opted-out. Rather, some parents may just be hesitant.
Vaccine-hesitancy among parents arises due to a multitude of reasons, and it is not unique unto parents to be concerned for the safety and welfare of their children, to have a say in their lives. Frequently, a lack of knowledge about vaccines has underlined vaccine-hesitancy, where parents are often uninformed about the safety and benefit provided by vaccines. With all the misinformation circulating about the harmful side-effects of vaccines, it is important to stress that vaccines have been thoroughly tested for safe use and a network of health agencies, local to international, continue to monitor them. For more information regarding vaccine contents, please visit http://www.immunize.ca/en/publications-resources/contents.aspx.
Often, the result of vaccine-hesitancy is a delay in vaccine delivery and uptake, which increases the risk of spreading vaccine-preventable diseases. Although most people who delay or forgo a vaccine will often be protected by “herd immunity”, this protection dwindles for all when the vaccination rate falls below ideal. For instance, according to PHAC, a 95% vaccination rate is ideal to maintain herd immunity for the measles, but as of 2013, this rate has fallen to 89% in Canada as more parents have decided to skip the MMR vaccine for their children.
The idea of herd immunity refers to the protection that is conferred to unvaccinated individuals when enough people have been vaccinated in the population at large – basically, the “herd” will protect individuals who are not vaccinated, and thus, immune to the disease. This is very important. Individuals with a compromised immune system – including: newborns, the elderly, cancer patients, and immunodeficient individuals – have a higher risk of infection. If infected, their lives could be put at risk. To maintain herd immunity and protect the most vulnerable individuals in our societies, it is imperative that all who are able to, get vaccinated, because when we delay and forego vaccinations, we are putting not only ourselves at risk, but others as well.
If you are hesitant about vaccinating your children, please direct any questions you have to your family health care provider, who can provide detailed information regarding concerns such as pain-management. If you reside in Ontario, you can also contact Telehealth Ontario for medical advice at 1-866-797-0000.