Column: Measles vaccine has saved more than 100 million lives

Not surprisingly there has been a growing push-back against the anti-vaccers who still seem to think that not vaccinating their kids is OK

With measles stubbornly surfacing in parts of Canada – notably Ontario, Quebec, and Manitoba – and news of more measles outbreaks continuing to be troublesome in the U.S. and Mexico following the Disneyland outbreak in December, there has been a growing demand for the measles vaccine from families in the Lower Mainland and Fraser Valley.

Vancouver Coastal Health told CBC that inquiries about vaccinations are up about 400 per cent at some of their clinics.

So not surprisingly there has been a growing push-back against the anti-vaccers who still seem to think that not vaccinating their kids is OK while being apparently oblivious to putting others at risk.

According to an online Angus Reid poll earlier this month, 1,509 people were asked if they agreed with the following statement: “People against childhood vaccinations are irresponsible.”

In total, 74 per cent agreed with the statement. By provinces, those who agreed included 76 per cent of responders in British Columbia, 82 per cent in Ontario, 78 per cent Alberta, 79 per cent Saskatchewan, 68 per cent Manitoba, 60 per cent Quebec and 76 per cent Atlantic provinces.

Demographically, the poll showed that the sentiment was strongest among Canadians 55+ (83 per cent) and those with a university education (81 per cent).

In addition, 88 per cent said that vaccinations are effective and 83 per cent said that they would vaccinate their children. Overall 63 per cent of respondents said that vaccinations for entry into daycare or school should be mandatory. Narrowing that specifically to parents, 66 per cent supported mandatory childhood vaccination.

Measles is a serious respiratory disease that causes a rash and fever. Its symptoms include runny nose, cough, red eyes, diarrhea, a rash of tiny red spots that start on the head and spread across the body, and ear infection. It can be very threatening for babies and young children leading to complications such as pneumonia, brain damage, and deafness. It can also be fatal. It is airborne and highly contagious and the virus can linger in a room for two hours after an infected person has left.

Apart from children who have not had the MMR shot (measles, mumps and rubella) because of parent objection, other children who may not get the shot include those with a serious allergy to a component of a vaccine, a blood disorder, a history of seizures, or other medical conditions making them vulnerable to those who are carriers. But the doubters still continue to question the science, which is unequivocally solid.

The fight against measles was pioneered by virologist John Enders who revolutionized techniques for studying viruses leading to the development of vaccines against many serious diseases. His early work in the late 1940s led to the production of poliovirus in test tubes that ultimately led to the polio vaccine developed by Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin. But it was his work in developing a measles vaccine that was his greatest accomplishment. Since being licensed in 1963 the vaccine has saved well over 100 million lives.

According to the World Health Organization, between 2000 and 2011, measles deaths dropped globally by 71 per cent and over the same period new cases dropped by 58 per cent. In the Americas, measles has been eliminated since 2002 but outbreaks keep occurring. WHO along with the consortium that makes up the Measles and Rubella Initiative has a goal to reduce measles deaths worldwide by 95 per cent this year and eliminate measles and rubella in at least five WHO regions by 2020 starting with a strategy of mass vaccinations.

Given the track record of such a successful and life-saving vaccine, why would anyone choose not to protect their child?