‘Even healthy kids [could] die’: Measles outbreak prompts vaccine plea from mom of transplant recipient

Click to play video: 'More and more people are wondering if they’re immunized against the measles'
More and more people are wondering if they’re immunized against the measles
WATCH: More and more people are wondering if they're immunized against the measles. That follows an outbreak in Vancouver that's centred around three French language schools. Julia Foy reports. – Feb 16, 2019

The mother of an eight-year-old B.C. girl with a compromised immune system says Vancouver’s measles outbreak is proof of the life-or-death consequences of vaccinations.

Elaine Yong’s daughter Addison had a heart transplant when she was just three weeks old.

She needs to take anti-rejection drugs twice a day, meaning her weakened immune system can’t handle vaccines, putting her at risk of diseases like measles.

“Lets say there was an outbreak at her school, we would have to pull Addison out of school,” said Yong.

“You see all of this junk, frankly, on the internet — people say, ‘It’s a childhood illness. Kids get over it. It’s not a big deal.’ That’s not true at all. Even healthy kids die from something like the measles. So can you imagine what an immune-compromised person would face?”

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WATCH: Measles outbreak in Vancouver

Click to play video: 'Measles outbreak in Vancouver'
Measles outbreak in Vancouver

Along with transplant recipients like Addison, Yong said people with chronic illnesses and cancer patients rely on “herd immunity,” a base level of vaccination among the general population that prevents disease from spreading, for protection from illnesses.

Yong isn’t alone in her feelings. A Maple Ridge mother recently started a petition calling on the province to make vaccinations mandatory for attendance at public school.

On Saturday, Vancouver Mayor Kennedy Stewart said mandatory vaccines were an issue for the province to tackle, but that he supports vaccination in principle.

“It is a discussion we definitely have to have,” Stewart said.

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WATCH: Online petition calls for mandatory vaccinations in schools

Click to play video: 'Online petition calls for mandatory vaccinations in schools'
Online petition calls for mandatory vaccinations in schools
“We’ve got to make sure our kids are vaccinated, and if they haven’t been vaccinated they have to go in and talk to their doctors right away, [so] we make sure we don’t have this happen again and it stays isolated.”

Vancouver Coastal Health (VCH) has confirmed nine cases of measles in 2019, eight of them linked to a trio of Francophone schools in Vancouver.

READ MORE: Low kindergarten vaccination rates in parts of Metro Vancouver a public health concern: UBC study

On Saturday, Fraser Health also confirmed it had treated one case of measles in January, involving an adult that had contracted the virus overseas.

The outbreak has also shone a spotlight on the low vaccination rates at a number of schools across the Lower Mainland.

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Data from Vancouver Coastal Health found that of the 127 schools in the City of Vancouver, just 27 have immunization rates of 90 per cent or higher, the level necessary to maintain herd immunity.

Indeed, eight schools in Metro Vancouver actually have immunization rates of 50 per cent or lower.

“We’re not allowed to bring peanut butter sandwiches to schools to protect those kids who have peanut allergies,” said Yong.

“So why are children who are unvaccinated, who are potentially spreading a deadly illness around allowed to go to school? That just seems wrong.”

WATCH: Officials warn of ‘several’ measles cases at 2 Vancouver schools

Click to play video: 'Officials warn of ‘several’ measles cases at 2 Vancouver schools'
Officials warn of ‘several’ measles cases at 2 Vancouver schools

Vancouver Coastal Health continues to investigate the outbreak, and students at two affected schools, École Jules‐Verne and Rose-des-Vents, may not attend school without proof of immunization.

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Health officials are also still trying to contact people who may have been exposed to a case of measles at B.C. Children’s Hospital on four specific dates.

  • Jan. 21 — 10 a.m. to 6:10 p.m.
  • Jan. 23 — 4:45 p.m. to 11:10 p.m.
  • Jan. 24 — 8:13 a.m. to 11:40 a.m.
  • Feb. 1 — 2 p.m. to 6:55 p.m.

Measles is highly infectious and potentially deadly and can spread through the air.

Symptoms include fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed several days later by a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the body.

Two doses of the measles vaccine are effective 99 per cent of the time and the majority of new cases are in people who were born after 1970 and have had just one or no doses, VCH said.

The agency said people born between 1970 and 1994 or who grew up outside B.C., may have only had a single dose.

Anyone who wishes to get the vaccine can get immunized for free at a community health centre, the City Centre Urgent Primary Care Centre, or potentially through their doctor or pharmacist.

-With files from Julia Foy

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