More Canadians see measles as dangerous compared to COVID, flu: poll

Click to play video: 'Majority of Canadians view measles as dangerous, not everyone in favour of mandatory vaccine: Poll'
Majority of Canadians view measles as dangerous, not everyone in favour of mandatory vaccine: Poll
Canada is facing a rising number of measles cases and concerns of further outbreaks. The disease is largely preventable thanks to vaccines. But new polling shows not everyone is on board with rolling up their sleeves, even though a large majority view the disease as dangerous. Health reporter Katherine Ward has the details – Mar 27, 2024

As measles cases continue to spread across the country, a new poll shows that most Canadians perceive the highly contagious disease as dangerous, while fewer say the same for viruses like COVID-19 and influenza.

The Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News found 76 per cent of Canadians perceive measles as dangerous, whereas 71 per cent said the same for COVID-19, and 57 per cent for the flu.

The poll also found that 83 per cent of Canadians trust the measles vaccine’s safety, compared to 80 per cent for the flu vaccine and 71 per cent for the COVID-19 shot.

“I think (Canadians) see the ramifications of measles, particularly for children and younger people, as more serious than the flu or COVID,” Sean Simpson, vice-president of Ipsos Public Affairs, told Global News.

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“Measles has a more significant impact and as a result, people do acknowledge that measles is perhaps more severe than COVID-19 or the flu.”

He noted that the measles vaccine, having been available in Canada since 1963, has a greater trust among the population. However, newer vaccines, like the shots for COVID-19, are perceived as somewhat less safe.

Click to play video: 'Canada sees dwindling measles vaccines supply'
Canada sees dwindling measles vaccines supply

Canada is seeing an increase in measles activity compared to 2023. The latest data from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shows that as of Wednesday, there were 40 reported measles cases in Canada this year, which is already more than three times the number of cases reported last year.

The public health agency received reports that seven of these people with measles required hospital care. The majority of measles cases in Canada are in unvaccinated people, most of whom are children, PHAC said in a statement.

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“There’s a lot of different views, but there are some places we shouldn’t cross swords. And when we do, we confuse people,” Health Minister Mark Holland told Global News in an interview Wednesday.

“So making sure that we have unequivocal statements made by all parties about the importance of vaccinations and why they save lives and measles are just an example when people don’t get that.”

Measles is a highly contagious viral infection that causes flu-like symptoms. It is also considered to be more contagious than both COVID-19 and the flu, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is so infectious that the virus can live for up to two hours in an airspace after an infected person leaves an area.

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The virus presents with symptoms such as fever, cough, runny nose, sore throat and a red rash. In severe cases, it can lead to complications such as pneumonia and even death, particularly in young children and those with weakened immune systems.

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“Most people have their first measles shot — over 90 per cent do. But a lot of people don’t have that second measles shot. We only have about 70 per cent,” Holland said.

Should the measles vaccine be mandatory across Canada?

The measles vaccine is available in Canada as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) or measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine. Since its approval, the vaccine has led to a decrease of more than 99 per cent in measles cases, according to the federal government.

The disease was eradicated in Canada in 1998 following an extensive immunization campaign. However, in recent years, it has resurfaced due to a decline in vaccination rates, according to Health Canada. Most cases come from abroad, brought into the country by travellers who are not vaccinated or under-immunized.

The measles vaccine is required for school attendance in most provinces, but parents can obtain exemptions based on medical, religious or conscientious reasons.

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Click to play video: 'Measles: the symptoms to watch for, and what vaccinated people need to know'
Measles: the symptoms to watch for, and what vaccinated people need to know

The Ipsos poll said two-thirds of adult respondents stated they are vaccinated against measles, and 24 per cent said they do not remember.

“A lot of us simply do not remember if we are up-to-date on our vaccinations,” Simpson said. “I think there is going to be a lot of conversations with doctors in the couple of months, to look at those immunization records and see if everyone is up-to-date on those recommended vaccines.”

The poll also found that two-thirds of parents reported their children received the measles vaccine. However, one in 10 were uncertain about their children’s vaccination status, 20 per cent confirmed their children are not vaccinated, and 15 per cent intend to vaccinate them against measles. Six per cent do not plan to.

Seven in 10 Canadians believe all children should be required to get the measles vaccination unless they are prohibited for medical reasons, the poll found. And six in 10 believe children should be required to get the shot even if their parents personally object to vaccinations.

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Canadians aged 55 and older are more inclined (72 per cent) to support mandatory measles vaccination for children, regardless of parental objections, compared to only half of Canadians aged 18 to 34 (52 per cent) and 35 to 54 (51 per cent).

Simpson believes this disparity underscores how vaccines are becoming increasingly divisive in Canada.

Click to play video: 'Holland encourages Canadians to get vaccinated amid rise in Measles cases'
Holland encourages Canadians to get vaccinated amid rise in Measles cases

“We know that COVID-19 changed people’s opinions and attitudes about a lot of things, vaccination probably more so,” Simpson said. “Even though by far most people believe the measles vaccine is safe, many do not believe the measles vaccine should not be mandatory for children.”

“I think that is going to cause a further rift in society, for those who are proponents of vaccine and for those who believe everyone should have their own choice.”

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A strong majority of Canadians (69 per cent) agree that the anti-vaccine movement will lead to many people getting sick, according to the poll. However, 27 per cent believe that vaccines are unnecessary for building immunity. Men are more likely to hold this belief than women.

Twenty-three per cent of respondents expressed fear of discussing vaccines with friends and family. This apprehension is higher among Canadians aged 18 to 34 (29 per cent) and 35 to 54 (26 per cent) compared to those aged 55 and older (17 per cent).

“Young people, particularly parents, are the most reluctant for their children,” Simpson said.

“Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, we saw that young women of childbearing age were the most nervous about getting the vaccine for themselves because of unknown potential health complications. But in general, it is younger men (under the age of 35) who are more likely to believe that we have that natural immunity.”

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— with files from Global News’ Katherine Ward

These are some of the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between March 15 and 18, 2024, on behalf of Global News. For this survey, a sample of 1,000 Canadians aged 18+ was interviewed. Quotas and weighting were employed to ensure that the sample’s composition reflects that of the Canadian population according to census parameters. The precision of Ipsos online polls is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the poll is accurate to within ± 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all Canadians aged 18+ been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error.

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