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Low vaccination rates mean the Okanagan is not immune to measles, experts say

Watch: So far the Okanagan hasn't been hit by the measles outbreaks plaguing Washington State and the Lower Mainland. However, with immunization rates here well below health authority targets, the Okanagan is also at risk.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to clarify that it is only those born since January of 1970 that need to get the vaccinations.

More than a third of seven-year-olds in the Okanagan were not up to date with their measles vaccinations last year — and by that age kids should have had two doses of the measles-containing vaccine.

It’s well below the health authority’s target of having 95 per cent vaccinated with two doses of the vaccine.

Given the current measles outbreaks in the Lower Mainland and Washington state, Interior Health officials are urging everyone to check to make sure their families are fully immunized.

On Friday, the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said the nine confirmed cases this year have included connected outbreaks at Vancouver schools and two cases linked to adults returning from overseas trips.

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Meanwhile, Washington state is reporting 62 confirmed cases as of Sunday afternoon.

“We are seeing that measles is making a comeback because there is a pool of people that are not immunized,” said medical health officer Dr. Silvina Mema.

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Mema said those who have not had two doses of measles-containing vaccine can call the public health unit, make an appointment and get immunized for free.

Interior Health said it’s only those born after 1969 that need to get the vaccine. The health authority said those born in 1969 or earlier are considered immune.

WATCH: More and more people are wondering if they’re immunized against measles

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
“If they are not sure [they’ve had the vaccine] or they haven’t had it, they are at risk of getting measles themselves and also spreading it in community,” Mema said.

While there are no confirmed measles cases in the Interior Health authority, Mema said there are interior residents that have possibly been exposed to the measles while travelling.

They are being monitored and so far don’t show any symptoms.

READ MORE: No confirmed measles cases in Interior Health as Vancouver, Washington state see outbreaks

However, Mema said if outbreaks elsewhere keep spreading, Interior Health is also at risk.

“If the outbreak begins to increase, there [are] more people infected, then it is a matter of time ’til we see a case here in the Interior because we know people travel around and they visit public places,” Mema said.
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“Measles is among the most communicable of all the infectious diseases. It spreads through the air. Even if you are in a room for a while and then you leave, the virus will remain in the air for a couple of hours.”

WATCH: Vancouver grapples with measles outbreak

Vancouver grapples with measles outbreak
Vancouver grapples with measles outbreak

Mema acknowledges there are side effects to the vaccine, including having a sore arm.

“Five per cent of people who get the measles vaccine may get a rash, but all of that is immensely better than getting the disease,” Mema said.

“When you get measles the rate of complications is significantly higher and you can have serious complications and die. It is not just a risk for individuals, it is a risk for the community.”

READ MORE: Vancouver measles outbreak puts spotlight on low vaccination rates at many local schools

Across Interior Health last year, 86.9 per cent of two-year-olds were up to date with one dose of measles-containing vaccine and 69.3 per cent of seven-year-olds were up to date with two doses.

In the Okanagan the vaccination rates were slightly lower, with 86 per cent of two-year-olds having received one dose of vaccine and 65.9 per cent of seven-year-olds having received two doses.

Interior Health would like to see 95 per cent of children having two doses of the vaccine, but says that one dose still provides significant protection against measles.

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