Alberta health officials urge immunization ahead of school year

Alberta health officials are encouraging immunization before students head back to class next week.
Alberta health officials are encouraging immunization before students head back to class next week. Sean Lerat / Global News

With many students heading back to class next week, health officials are urging Albertans to put immunization on their back-to-school checklists.

By the age of four, Alberta Health Services says children should receive the dTap and MMR vaccines, which protect against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), polio, measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox).

READ MORE: Unvaccinated: Pockets of Canada vulnerable to serious outbreaks of disease

Receiving vaccinations is free for infants and children who live in Alberta.

“By following a routine immunization schedule, you and your child will be immunized against diseases at the safest and most effective ages and stages,” said Dr. Christopher Sikora, a medical officer of health with AHS.

“This means you and your child will get the maximum possible protection.”

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In the Edmonton area, about 75 per cent of people have complete MMR immunization — which means they have received two doses — by age seven, according to Alberta Health. The Alberta average is about 79 per cent.

“It’s too low. Ideally, we would like to see specifically that one up around 90 to 95 per cent, specifically for the prevention of transmission of measles,” Sikora said.

“Seventy-five per cent is a little bit low and it does leave us worried that we might not have our herd immunity high enough to be able to help prevent spread of some of those diseases like measles, which can spread quite efficiently through a population.”

On Thursday, the World Health Organization announced that every region in the world, except for the Americas, is experiencing an increase in the number of cases of measles.

READ MORE: Measles cases tripled worldwide this year: WHO

Nearly three times as many cases of measles were reported from January to July this year than in the same period in 2018, the WHO said.

Four European countries were stripped of their “measles-free” status in 2018 — Albania, the Czech Republic, Greece and Britain — according to the WHO.

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Measles is a contagious disease that is easily spread through the air. It can be prevented through immunization. Measles has been eliminated in Canada since 1998.

“Immunization is safe, immunization is effective and immunization protects whole communities. The more people who are fully immunized in a community, the safer everyone is,” Sikora said.

Watch below: Pharmacy manager explains how vaccines work and the concept of herd immunity. He also responds to some concerns over immunization

Understanding vaccines and immunization
Understanding vaccines and immunization

Anyone with questions about their child’s immunization status can call their local public health centre or Health Link at 811. Childhood immunization schedules can be found online.