Toronto Star

Not good enough


Good — but not good enough. That’s the upshot of the largest survey ever commission­ed of children’s vaccinatio­n status by the Public Health Agency of Canada.

While a relatively high number of kids have been immunized, overall rates remain “sub-optimal.” As long as that’s the case, a distressin­g percentage of children across this country remain at risk of serious illness. The threat is all the more troubling because it’s so readily avoided through timely vaccinatio­n.

Using data on about 24,000 kids of various ages, the 2013 Childhood National Immunizati­on Coverage Survey released last week found that 2-year-olds weren’t being vaccinated at a rate sufficient to provide “herd immunity.”

This level of protection occurs when so large a proportion of a population has been rendered immune to a bacteria or virus that there’s no practical route for infection to spread, even to the small percentage that remains vulnerable.

Herd immunity is what protects people for whom vaccine isn’t an option, including patients with cancer, impaired immune systems, or other vulnerabil­ities. A 90-per-cent immunizati­on rate generally provides society with sufficient coverage, although a 95-per-cent uptake is required for herd immunity against measles, an extremely contagious menace.

Canada tends to fall well short of such targets. The survey found 91 per cent of toddlers were inoculated against polio. But only 73 per cent were protected against chicken pox. And just 89 per cent were shielded from measles.

Given what’s at stake — quite literally, the well-being of our children — Canadians can and should do better.

Doctors, midwives and other health profession­als could do more to promote vaccinatio­n and dispel parents’ misunderst­andings. Provinces could run more immunizati­on clinics when children start school. And officials could tighten provisions which allow parents to opt out of vaccinatio­n and still have their kids attend class. One possible way to tighten exemptions would be to require proof of religious affiliatio­n.

Possible complicati­ons from measles alone include pneumonia, hearing loss, brain damage and even death. There’s simply no good excuse to leave children at risk of such tragedies when a solution, provided through vaccinatio­n, is so obvious and near at hand.

Too many Canadian kids aren’t being immunized against potentiall­y dangerous diseases

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