By Dr. Perry Kendall
Provincial Health Officer
VANCOUVER - To circumcise or not? To use a pacifier or a bottle? How long to breastfeed? New parents are presented with an astounding amount of decisions.
On top of all this, parents are often bombarded with conflicting information, making each decision that much more difficult.
Fortunately, for childhood vaccination there should be no reason for debate. Childhood vaccination is safe, effective and free. It is, as they say −“Your child’s best shot.” In B.C. the majority of children under two are immunized against 15 vaccine-preventable diseases. Parents are keen to keep their children healthy.
Ironically, however, the very success of immunizations has caused some of us to forget the very real harm vaccine-preventable diseases can cause. As well, misinformation and unfettered access to disinformation, has led some parents to skip and sometimes refuse all vaccines for their children despite the extremely low risk they present.
For example, there is a one in one million risk of a severe (but treatable) allergic reaction to the measles vaccine, whereas the risk of inflammation of the brain to an unvaccinated child or adult who gets measles is over 300 times higher. In fact, many vaccine-preventable diseases can cause serious complications and some can be life threatening.
Pertussis, or whooping cough, can lead to pneumonia, seizures and death for infants and young children. Polio, once one of the most feared childhood diseases, infects the brain and spine and can lead to paralysis, difficulty breathing and death. Measles is highly contagious and can cause blindness, severe diarrhea, pneumonia and brain swelling that could result in deafness or intellectual disabilities and ear infections that could lead to deafness.
Most Canadians don’t know what it’s like to live in a time and place where diseases like these are common. However, by choosing not to vaccinate our children, we are giving these diseases an opportunity to re-emerge. We saw this with last year’s measles outbreak in the Fraser Valley, whooping cough in under immunized communities and in the continuing circulation (and accompanying risk of exportation) of polio virus in countries where people have limited access to immunizations.
Fortunately, we live in a place where most childhood vaccines are free and easily available through public-health clinics, doctors’ offices and school-based programs. B.C.’s comprehensive immunization program for children includes coverage for a wide variety of diseases including measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, meningitis from haemophilus, meningococcus and pneumococcus, as well as hepatitis, polio, influenza, HPV and more.
The vaccines used in B.C. are proven to be safe and effective − the choice to not immunize or under-immunize leaves children’s health at a far greater risk. This National Immunization Awareness Week, I encourage parents to take the biggest step they can in preventing their children from getting some of the world’s most preventable and sometimes devastating diseases by choosing to vaccinate.
Media Relations Manager
Ministry of Health
250 952-1887 (media line)