EDITORIAL: Williams Lake public health sees a spike in requests for measles immunizations

As the debate about vaccinations reheats, The Tribune offers some facts and opinions

The recent measles outbreak in Vancouver has stirred a heated debate on vaccinations across the province.

So far there have been nine confirmed cases of measles in the Vancouver area, stemming from a family who took a trip abroad to Vietnam without being immunized for measles. All three of their children contracted the highly contagious disease and passed it on.

Across the border, in Washington State, a state of emergency has been called with 65 confirmed cases — health officials are sure that number will rise.

Read More: Two more measles cases confirmed in Vancouver

A spokesperson for Interior Health confirmed Thursday there has been a spike in Williams Lake of people wanting immunizations, or information on whether or not their vaccines are up to date, which is good news. That increase has been seen across most of the province as the story of the outbreak continues to dominate news headlines and social media.

Parents are engaging in heated debates online on the pros and cons of immunization. Some strongly believe in ‘herd immunization’ where we should all receive the vaccinations necessary to eradicate the disease as a way of protecting the most vulnerable in our society who cannot be vaccinated and could be seriously impacted, or even die, from complications of contracting measles.

We have a few children in our community who are battling serious diseases, such as cancer, who come to our minds.

Others are passionately against immunization as they do not believe the science behind the vaccines, and fear lifelong complications from being immunized.

According to Interior Health, 86 per cent of the people in our region have received their measles immunizations. At this time there are no confirmed cases of measles in the Interior Health region.

Symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose, and red and inflamed eyes. These are followed by a rash, which starts first on the face and neck, spreads to the chest, arms and legs, and lasts for at least three days. Severe complications of measles include pneumonia and encephalitis (acute inflammation of the brain).

Children under the age of 12 months are not vaccinated for measles, so the best way to protect them and other vulnerable people is to make sure others around them are vaccinated, says Interior Health.

In B.C., children are offered two doses of MMR vaccine; the first at one year of age and the second at four to six years of age.

A single dose of measles vaccine given at 12 to 15 months of age is estimated to be between 85 per cent to 95 per cent effective. With a second dose, effectiveness is almost 100 per cent, stated Interior Health in a news release issued this week.

Immunized individuals are also far less likely to get measles, and even if they develop measles infection, are less likely to experience severe complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis.

In Vancouver, the schools impacted by the outbreak are not allowing students without up to date immunizations or proof of having them back to school until they either get vaccinated, show proof of vaccination or until the threat is over (about three weeks.)

Read More: B.C. looking into vaccination registry due to the measles outbreak, minister says

A Tribune web poll asking readers if they thought vaccines should be compulsory in order for children to attend school sparked much debate, with ‘No’ garnering 4,633 votes or 87.7 per cent, and ‘Yes’ receiving 650 votes or 12.3 per cent. An Angus Reid poll this week, however, indicates the vast majority of Canadians, 70 per cent, believe that vaccinations against common deadly diseases should be a requirement for children entering school.

Whatever side of the fence you are on, it is unlikely another article will make or break your opinion.

But if you believe as we do that Interior Health and our medical professionals are there for our best interests and that of our entire community, then getting a vaccine to save a life is the right thing to do.

Some children in our community whose health is too compromised to get the vaccine don’t have the luxury of choice.

– Williams Lake Tribune

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