THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - To prevent a measles outbreak, 95 per cent of the population is required to be vaccinated, but the province’s southern Interior isn’t meeting that requirement with only 71 per cent of seven-year-olds vaccinated between 2012 and 2014.
With the latest school year comes the annual round of vaccinations and kids will bring reminders home within weeks. But much to public health nurse Carrie Vossier’s chagrin, not all the students who take home consent forms will return them signed.
Over the course of Vossier’s 20-plus years of experience with Interior Health Authority, she’s seen the vaccinated numbers drop. The lowest of all the recent numbers collected is the province’s seven-year-olds, a group which she says is only 68 per cent vaccinated.
“Going forward this is not good," she says.“We’re looking at protecting the person who gets the vaccine as well as people around them in the community. That includes all of our babies, it includes our yet-to-be born babies. We have kids in each school who are immune-compromised. Community immunity is the only thing that protects those children."
This year just like last, Vossier and the other members of her team will vaccinate kindergarteners along with students in grade six and grade nine. The vaccines run the gamut from hepatitis to meningitis, diphtheria, measles and chicken pox. Vaccinations for kindergarteners are done under parental supervision, while grade six and grade nine students receive school-setting injections. Vossier says the grade nine students at age 14 can sign their own consent on vaccinations.
She’s surprised at the falling numbers and worries diseases like pertussis known as whooping cough, could make a resurgence. The total number of seven-year-olds vaccinated in 2014 was 73 per cent in the Kamloops region and 72 per cent in the Okanagan — a drastic change from what Vossier remembers.
“(Kamloops has) almost always been the highest in the province. But 73 per cent is way too low," she says.
Vossier attributes the drop in numbers to online material.
"Social media is definitely changing views of vaccinations. The internet has promoted myths and falsehoods about vaccinations for about 20 years,” she says. "If people choose to believe a lie, sometimes a medical professional can’t convince them otherwise. There’s sort of an antiestablishment viewpoint with some people. Some people think I get paid for every vaccine I administer. I don’t."
Yet Vossier says she still tries to communicate with parents, despite pushback.
“If they have concerns they’re more than welcome to come and sit down with a public health nurse; we can answer their questions. If necessary we can take an hour with them and go through the details,” she says.
In some cases, Vossier says she’s shown mothers pictures and videos of those suffering from the diseases.
“If you look around the world we don’t have people crippled on the street for a reason. We don’t have polio circulating. Our pediatric wards are empty because people are vaccinating. It’s a wonderful thing," she says.
THE FUTURE IN SCHOOLS
Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall says recent outbreaks for diseases like measles in the Lower Mainland and at Disneyland, and concerns about whooping cough in Kelowna, have helped changed the negative perception about vaccines.
Kendall says both Ontario and New Brunswick health ministries through a regulatory framework with respective education ministries have required reporting student immunization status.
“The parents have to provide information on the child’s vaccine status or the child can be sent home until we get the information,” Kendall says. He says British Columbia officials are currently discussing the option of having the same protocol in the province.
"No province in Canada makes it mandatory for children to be vaccinated,” Kendall says. “If we tried to make it mandatory there would probably be a charter challenge."
Kendall adds documenting which children are not vaccinated will not only give medical staff an opportunity to reach out and present the facts, but it will help notify schools who to send home if a communicable disease is in the community.
For more information on vaccination, visit the B.C. Centre for Disease Control website or www.immunizebc.ca.
— Statistics for this article are from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control 2014 report titled Immunization Uptake in Children by the Seventh Birthday.
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