Low vaccination rates could be improved by national registry: N.S. public health official

HALIFAX – One of Nova Scotia’s top health officials is throwing his support behind a report released Tuesday that calls for a national vaccination¬†registry following recent outbreaks of measles across the country.

Dr. Frank Atherton, the province’s deputy chief medical officer of health, told Global News that a registry would help improve the province’s immunization program.

Immunization rates for two-year-olds in Nova Scotia in 2012 for the Measles, Mumps and Rubella vaccine (MMR) sit at 86 per cent while the national average is 95 per cent. The World Health Organization recommends a vaccination rate of 90 to 95 per cent.

“One of the problems we have now in Nova Scotia is it is quite difficult to get an accurate figure for the number of kids that have had a MMR vaccine, and one of the reasons for that is we don’t have an accurate vaccination registry,” Atherton said.

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“It’s a little bit difficult to know exactly how many kids have been vaccinated.”

Atherton said a registry would allow the province to better understand coverage rates as well as contact and remind individuals directly if they have not been vaccinated.

A report released Thursday by the C.D. Howe Institute calls for a national registry to improve vaccination rates across the country.

Senior Policy Analyst Colin Busby said data from the report shows low vaccination rates are caused more by delay and disorganization rather than anti-vaccination beliefs.

“You see often individuals will get their children vaccinated say for one out of two doses of a certain vaccine but not the full dose schedule. Or you’ll often see things like parents will have their children vaccinated for four out of the five key vaccines but not the fifth,” Busby said.

He said a registry will help people remember their vaccination schedules.

“Essentially creating an architecture for parents to make smart, informed decisions in a very easy and simple manner. We think there are perhaps some impediments in provincial programs right now that prevent them from getting to that level,” he said.

Busby cites the measles cases in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba as a sign of things to come.

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“I think they are an indicator of some troubling signs when it comes to the overall levels of vaccination coverage in society,” he said. “These outbreaks are perhaps harbingers of things to come should we not get a better grip in terms of improving our vaccination coverage levels.”


Support for registry is not unanimous

Heather Docherty has vaccinated her 18-month-old daughter against the measles.

“I believe scientifically it has been proven to reduce the number of cases and I feel good about it,” she said.

The young mother said that if she had not vaccinated her daughter, she would be worried about taking her to public places where she could come into contact with the disease.

However, she is not behind the call for a national registry.

“It still should be your choice whether you vaccinate your kid. If this is going to be some sort of mandatory regulation of the population of keeping track of who has and who hasn’t, I don’t know if that’s right,” she said.


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Nova Scotia at risk of measles

Atherton said there are serious consequences for those who do not get immunized.

“The diseases the vaccines are very effective in preventing are not trivial diseases. We’re very keen to get uptake rates higher if we can. We know these diseases are still around. They haven’t gone away. They’ve been kept at bay by vaccination but we do see cases in Canada,” he said.

On Wednesday, Quebec health officials announced 119 new measles cases near Montreal, and there is a likelihood the communicable, and completely preventable, disease could make its way to Nova Scotia.

“Diseases don’t know boundaries. They don’t respect them. There’s always a risk that when you have cases of diseases, they can move from province to province,” said Atherton.

Atherton said good data can help improve the province’s immunization program but there’s no timeline on when that might be.

“We’ve been working within the government of Nova Scotia to try and get [a vaccination registry] instituted for quite some time now. This is not cheap. We understand there’s competing priorities in any health system.”
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Atherton said the province is keeping a close eye on the various measles outbreaks. He spoke with public health counterparts on the phone Wednesday and said a letter was recently sent to doctors around the province to remind them of the importance of talking to patients about vaccination.

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