Let’s Talk about Vaccination…
National Immunization Awareness Week is an annual event held in the last week of April to highlight and recognize the importance of immunization and the success and impact that immunization has had in protecting and saving lives.
To understand the impact of immunizations, it’s helpful to look back in history… Vaccines were introduced in Canada in the early 1900s because of the increasing occurrences and deaths associated with certain diseases (i.e. smallpox, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, rubella etc.). In the early to mid-1900s, there were thousands of reported cases and deaths per year associated with what are now considered “vaccine-preventable diseases”.
Much has changed in Canada since then. By the mid 1970s immunization was common, and many important diseases were completely eradicated (eliminated). This explains why many individuals have never experienced the diseased named above.
Let’s take measles for example…
Measles is a highly infectious disease that spreads through the air. You do not need to be in close contact with someone for the disease to be transmitted. The disease can also spread through sharing food, drinks, or kissing an infected person, etc.
Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed a few days later by a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the chest. Complications from measles can include pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, seizures, deafness, brain damage and death.
The MMR measles vaccine is the best protection against the disease. Two doses are almost 100 per cent effective in preventing the disease. Before the measles vaccination was introduced in Canada, 300 000 cases with 300 deaths and 300 with brain damage were reported per year. After the vaccine, about 20 cases were confirmed per year with 0 deaths.
Similar statistics can be found for many other vaccine-preventable diseases. Thanks to vaccines, diseases that once harmed or killed many individuals, including children, are now almost unheard of in developed countries like Canada. In fact, immunizations have saved more lives than any other health intervention. Vaccines truly are one of the great public health achievements of the twentieth century – and onward to the twenty first.
Although routine immunizations have significantly reduced illness, death, and the spread of these diseases in Canada and around the world, vaccine-preventable diseases still pose a threat in places where immunizations rates have dropped, leading diseases to spread and cause outbreaks (i.e. recent measles outbreak). Diseases, such as measles, that have not been completely eradicated and are still occurring in other areas of the world, can still come to Canada and cause serious complications and harm to those who are not immunized. Now that immunization levels have dropped, more Canadians are at risk of these diseases.
In fact, the recent drop in immunization rates threatens to reverse the progress made in tackling vaccine-preventable disease. For example, measles has seen a 30% increase in cases globally. For this reason, the World Health Organization has declared vaccine hesitancy as one of the top ten threats to global health in 2019.
More individuals are choosing not to vaccinate their children due to various reasons, including skepticism. Unlike parents in the 1920s or 1930s, this generation of parents is not familiar with the effects of the infections that vaccines aim to protect their children from. They have not seen or likely even heard of children dying or becoming disabled from these diseases; therefore, they are no longer scared of them. For this reason, it is not surprising that parents are sometimes hesitant when it comes to vaccinating their children against these diseases.
Some of the skepticism coming from parents can also stem from information received through the internet, which has become a primary source of immunization information. The internet can be a great tool, but it can also provide a lot of false information that can lead to vaccine hesitancy. One of the goals of National Immunization Awareness Month is to provide individuals with facts about the safety and effectiveness of immunizations so that they can make an informed decision when it comes to deciding whether or not they want to vaccinate their children.
If someone chooses not to immunize their children, it is important that they understand their risks and responsibilities. They need to be aware of how to make it less likely that their child gets and infection or spreads disease to others (see the Caring for Kids website listed below for more information).
Immunization doesn’t just protect the people who get immunized – it protects those around them too. When a majority of the people in a community are immunized against a disease, it greatly reduces the chances of that disease spreading in the community, protecting people such as infants who are too young to be immunized and those who are not able to get immunized due to medical reasons.
Remember, immunization is safe and effective and is the best way to protect yourself, your children and your community from diseases that could cause serious complications and harm. Partial vaccination is also better than no vaccination.
If you have any questions or concerns about immunizations, please speak with your healthcare provider.
If you are not sure if you are fully immunized, please call Thunder Bay District Health Unit at 807-229-1820 to receive an updated immunization record.
For more information: