World Immunization Week: Your guide to when Canadian kids should be vaccinated
Measles, mumps, whooping cough – outbreaks of once eradicated diseases have resurfaced across the Western world making this year’s World Immunization Week incredibly relevant.
“Vaccination is considered one of the best ways to prevent the spread of infectious diseases,” Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief public health officer at the Public Health Agency of Canada, said.
“[Vaccines] are the most important public health intervention we’ve had of all time. We have this myth that these bacteria and viruses have been eliminated and therefore people don’t need to be vaccinated. People don’t see measles or polio anymore but they still lurk in parts of the world where vaccination is not as robust,” Dr. Nicole Le Saux, an infectious disease physician at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, told Global News.
The World Health Organization kicked off Immunization Week on April 24 leading up to April 30. Here’s a look at when Canadian parents should get their kids vaccinated, along with why.
Keep in mind, though, provincial and territorial vaccine schedules vary while some provinces offer boosters at various ages, too. You can see the full list of vaccines, and when they’re doled out by region here.
It covers dipththeria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio and hib. It’s typically administered starting at the 18-month mark.
Another DTap-HB-IPV-Hib vaccine, which includes Hepatitis B, is doled out in B.C., Quebec, P.E.I., and the Yukon between months two and 18, depending on where your family lives.
A DTaP-IPV, or Tdap-IPV, shot which covers dipththeria, tetanus, pertussis and polio, is also given out across the country between ages four to six.
Kids are given a hepatitis B vaccine in a three-dose combination (DTaP-HB-IPV-Hib) in some provinces. In others, they’re given the hepatitis B vaccine in two or three doses either at birth, and one- and six-months old, or in grade school between grades five and seven.
The MMR vaccine covers measles mumps and rubella. Another variation is the MMRV, which covers varicella or the chicken pox. The MMR is doled out at a baby’s one-year birthday in B.C., Ontario and Nunavut, while the MMRV is given in two doses across the country, typically at 12 months, and four to six years old.
These vaccines cover off strains A, C, Y and W135 of meningococcal disease. Men-C-C is typically administered once or twice before a child’s first birthday, while Men-C-ACYW is given out once in grade school, between grades four and 12 in most provinces.
The HPV vaccine is one of the most recent vaccines administered to Canadian youth, and covers off Human Papillomavirus. It’s given out in either two or three doses, and depending on where you live, the schedule starts in grades four or five, with boosters in grades eight or nine.
Kids as young as six months old can start getting the seasonal flu shot.
These diseases are basically eradicated, so why should my child get vaccinated?
Yes, some of these diseases were, for the most part, wiped out in much of the Western world in recent years. But because of small pockets of unvaccinated populations, they’ve resurfaced all across Europe and into North America, according to the World Health Organization.
Over the past few years, outbreaks of measles, mumps and whooping cough have already cropped up across Canada and the United States.
Measles and mumps are among some of the most contagious diseases.
According to doctors, anti-vaxxers rely on herd immunity – the level at which there are enough people immunized to protect everyone. But this is risky, though, and the uptake in measles cases across Canada is proof, doctors say.
Canada’s top doctor, Dr. Theresa Tam, even told Global News earlier this month that the Public Health Agency of Canada is working on reversing the trend of parents opting out of vaccinating.
READ MORE: 6 vaccination myths debunked
“The vaccine coverage rate in Canada is not as high as it should be… it’s close to 90 per cent. But we need 95 per cent to be able to protect the population,” Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, told Global News.
“These outbreaks are occurring, and occurring as we speak… it’s possible that we’ll see an increase [in measles cases]. We are keeping up a certain level of vaccine coverage, but we may need to do better,” she said.
Vaccination also goes beyond you and your child. It’s about protecting the vulnerable, including pregnant women, newborn babies, the elderly, and patients who have had organ transplants or are going through chemotherapy, for example.
Are vaccines safe?
The experts say Canada has a vast vaccine safety network that includes funding, surveillance, education and outreach. Adverse reactions are closely tracked and followed up on. Researchers have thoroughly studied the safety of vaccines and even the timing for immunization schedules.
Have confidence in the system, they say.
“It’s overwhelmingly positive in showing the benefits of vaccinations outweighing the risk,” Njoo said.
“There is no scientific evidence linking the measles vaccine to autism. It’s been disproved many, many, many times,” La Saux said.
In 1998, a study raised concerns about a possible link between the MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine and autism, setting off widespread panic around the world. The study had its flaws: it was based on only 12 children, and the researchers didn’t find a link between the MMR vaccine and behavioural problems. Ten of the 13 authors of the paper said they shouldn’t have published the paper.
Ultimately, the journal that published the paper issued a formal retraction. It said that its decision to publish the article was the result of a “collective failure.” Subsequent large studies around the world haven’t found a link between the MMR vaccine and autism.
The federal government pours $18 million into immunization annually, but it’s adding another $25 million to be doled out over five years to improve vaccination coverage rates and to study why there may be hesitancy.
These diseases aren’t serious. Aren’t they just part of growing up and building immunity?
Doctors say there’s an ebb and flow to the way these diseases disappear and recur. When vaccines work extremely well and you have almost no disease around, it’s difficult to convince families that they should get vaccinated. But those who have encountered measles or other similar diseases in their lifetime know they aren’t pleasant.
What’s worse is that they can come with severe complications in both kids and adults, according to the World Health Organization. Pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness, diarrhea and ear infections are just some of the risks. Pregnant women could also harm their babies or put them at risk of serious problems, such as heart, eye and neurological problems.
They’re also deadly. The Canadian Paediatric Society pegs measles as a killer of 250,000 children each year.
How can I protect myself and my family?
Your best bet is to get vaccinated, the experts say. Vaccines aren’t perfect, but they’re safe and effective.
Two doses of the mumps vaccine offers about 90 per cent coverage, for example.
If you’re not sure what your vaccination status is, visit your doctor to pull up your records, or he or she can order a titre test, in which a doctor draws blood from an individual and has a lab check what the patient has immunity against or is susceptible to. This will uncover any missing vaccines or booster shots you may need.
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