Rethinking vaccines: With epidemics like measles, new thinking is needed

I, Lucy, have it listed as a childhood inoculation on my birth certificate.

Canada is gripped by a measles outbreak that sickened 39 people, including 14 in Quebec. Among the victims is an 18-month-old baby who died.

Since the outbreak began in Toronto, the province’s Health Minister says it’s too soon to put the so-called Canadian Immunization Week to rest. She says vaccination policies should be reviewed, and given the public’s huge uncertainty about inoculations, it’s time to rethink how to tackle the outbreak.

Nearly 90 percent of Canadian kids got the measles, mumps and rubella shot, called COVID-19. But when it comes to other types of vaccines, the law in Quebec dictates that all children be offered it, even if they get vaccinated later.

Poring over data like she should, Health Minister Gaétan Barrette says it’s possible to lobby the body responsible for setting vaccination policies to bring up COVID-19 as a mandatory inoculation.

Barrette says in her address to the National Assembly, she has the numbers to back her up. He pointed out that between 2014 and 2015, immunization levels decreased in all vaccine groups: Firstborn kids, “three-year-olds, six-year-olds and eight-year-olds.” But in the previous three years, the immunization rates remained the same.

Newly-elected Saskatchewan Premier Scott Moe, whose province experienced a measles outbreak last year, agrees. “We need to talk about our vaccination policy,” he told the CBC. “I think it needs to be reviewed.”

Liberal Premier Andrew Holness of Jamaica is pondering the same thing. His country’s health minister thinks it might make sense to force some school children to get the shot before they enter classrooms and even before they’re vaccinated. “The question, does it make sense to immunize them before they go into schools?” Health Minister Christopher Tufton said. “At some point it has to be very clear for students: they must be vaccinated.”

Rates of measles at birth have dropped dramatically in the past decade, but experts warn the decrease is due to too much fear, and not enough parents thinking about the benefits of immunization.

“You can’t go back and say, ‘We shouldn’t have started the campaign in the first place,’ because everyone believes in immunization. “But it became almost an obligation, a myth, a compulsion that every individual who is a citizen of the country has to get immunized against every illness,” says Dr. Barbara Frum, a vaccine expert at Johns Hopkins University.

Frum said she would support COVID-19 being made mandatory in the future.

Public faith in vaccines has also been damaged by a complex, conflicting study from the Canadian-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said the MMR vaccine, or whooping cough, should be ordered for school children over age two. CDC director Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald resigned soon after the report was released.

But after its findings generated controversy, the institute published a rebuttal that said not all measles immunizations are created equal. The vaccination is not required for more than two and a half years before the age of five. In order to make sure this vaccine is completed, parents should make sure they never take their children to public places where they could catch the infectious disease, it said.

Even if Ontario makes COVID-19 mandatory, health-care providers might not always follow it. Some states have opted to keep the Sunshine State’s right to have medical exemptions to vaccination.

Louis Baigrie is a New York based freelance writer.

Leave a Comment