Measles: Fears and facts
A dangerous new trend of some parents opting out of having their children vaccinated for measles is causing the local health unit to worry.
Eastern Ontario Health Unit ( EOHU) medical officer of health and CEO Dr. Paul Roumeliotis says, while this region’s numbers for vaccinations remain good, with the measles and mumps vaccination rate at close to 90 per cent, a small minority opposes vaccination. “They have exemptions, but the majority of the kids we follow do get vaccinated,” he relates. An anti-vaccine movement has been growing in Canada and the U.S., based on the belief the measles vaccine is linked to autism. While research has dispelled that fear, some parents still object to immunization as they see autism spectrum disorder numbers rise in
Canada and the U.S. “I am concerned because they are basing their decisions purely on anecdotal and not evidence-based reasons,” said Dr. Roumeliotis.
An EOHU 2009 report shows the proportion of children in daycares who had been immunized against measles, mumps and rubella was 87 per cent in 2009, 86 per cent in 2008, and 82 per cent in 2007.
In elementary schools, numbers for vaccinations were 84 per cent in 2009, 83 per cent in 2008 and 80 per cent in 2007. Secondary school students were at 83 per cent in 2009, 84 per cent in 2008 and 90 per cent in 2007.
Dr. Roumeliotis explains more recent and accurate numbers from immunization record-keeping show about 90 per cent of children in EOHU have been vaccinated for measles in a 2012 report. He added children need to have two shots in the vaccination cycle, first when they are 12 months old and again at between four to six years of age.
He said vaccinations remain one of the most effective medical tools developed over the last century.
“If we’re talking 50 or 60 years ago and you asked me what the Number 1 killer was and what the reason for being sick was I would say it would be tuberculosis or polio,” he said, adding that today polio has almost been eliminated because of the success of vaccinations.
Public Health Agency of Canada stats show that 95 per cent of children were immunized against measles in 2011. That was an increase from 2009 when 70 per cent were vaccinated. Similary, for youth up to age 17, some 88 per cent were vaccinated for measles in 2011 compared to 65 per cent in 2009.
Dr. Roumeliotis says despite news reports that the numbers of cases of people with autism is increasing, more conditions are simply being re-classified and renamed under the autism spectrum disorder umbrella.
“There is no correlation related to vaccines” to suggest a possible connection between the measles vaccine and autism, he observes. “I believe there may be other factors,” he comments, adding, “Part of the reason we are seeing an increase is that now we are naming things that we didn’t name before as autism spectrum disorder.”
Based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention US report for autism numbers, in 2010, one in 68 had the disorder, in 2008 one in 88, in 2004 one in 125, and in 2000 one in 150.
A National Epidemiologic Database for the Study of Autism in Canada 2012 report shows increased rates in parts of Canada also. The Public Health Agency of Canada is in the process of developing a national autism surveillance system to provide an accurate record of current numbers.
Dr. Roumeliotis stresses that credible sources such as the Canadian Pediatric Society and the American Academy of Pediatrics will confirm there is no link between the measles vaccine and autism spectrum disorder. Developmental factors, such as inborn and inherited characteristics, may influence conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, he adds.
Meanwhile, the number of people who contract measles despite the availability of the vaccine continues to grow.
In Ontario, 11 cases have been confirmed and as many as 114 people have come down with the disease in the U.S.
Dr. Roumeliotis notes that newcomers to Canada may have left countries where there have been recent outbreaks of infectious diseases. Their arrival can affect the number of cases.
Last week federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose said parents must have their children immunized, for the health of their children and of those they may come in contact with.
“I believe as parents we want the best for our kids so we do our best to dress them, wash them and feed them, and vaccines are a part of the wellness package,” says Dr. Roumeliotis.