Ignorance, misinformation on vaccines

The Leader-Post –

Albertans have drawn up a lot of rules for their children to keep them safe and healthy – things like mandatory bicycle helmets and car seats on the road, life-jackets on the water.

They are indeed fortunate to be growing up in one of the healthiest countries in the world.

They have clean water, fresh air, plenty of food, a strong and subsidized health-care system, and onceterrible, crippling or fatal diseases have been virtually eradicated through childhood vaccination programs.

Elsewhere, according to statistics from the World Health Organization, 10 million children under the age of five are dying every year, a horrendous number considering so many of those deaths are preventable.

These children die of malnutrition, diarrhea, pneumonia, measles, malaria – all things that are easily conquered with drugs, immunization programs, and better sewer and water conditions.

Which is why it is cause for concern when a highly contagious and potentially fatal disease such as measles rears its ugly head in Canada. At least nine cases have been confirmed in Alberta over the past few weeks, including one in Edmonton.

B.C. is reporting more than 350 confirmed cases, with many more under investigation, and cases have been reported in Saskatchewan and Manitoba as well. Some are calling it Canada’s worst outbreak in years.

How is this happening? For decades, Canadian children have been offered free immunization shots for everything from polio to diphtheria to rubella. By 18 months, they are voluntarily immunized against measles as part of the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella), and a second dose is usually given between the ages of four and five.

It’s a highly effective program, but it is voluntary in Alberta, even though it has proven so effective that provinces like Ontario and New Brunswick have opted to declare it mandatory. Their programs require up-to-date immunizations for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps and rubella for any students prior to entering the school system.

Alberta should contemplate this move.

According to the Canadian Paediatric Society, as many as 20 per cent of today’s parents are delaying immunizations or downright refusing them.

Bogus and since-discredited studies – still widely distributed on the Internet – have confused and misled them, linking vaccinations with autism and various other health scares.

For some, it’s a religious issue. The outbreak in B.C. occurred in a Dutch Reform community whose leader claims the Bible forbids vaccinations.

We’ve seen far too many instances in the past few years where – whenever fear of vaccinations prevailed – the rate of potentially deadly infections has soared again in everything from whooping cough (pertussis) to diphtheria.

We need to combat the ignorance.

Vaccines work. Comprehensive vaccination programs stop the spread of disease and create healthier societies. These treatments have amazingly slain some of the worst diseases in our history.

Just last week, India declared itself “polio-free” thanks to an aggressive vaccination campaign that has succeeded spectacularly. The nation of 1.2 billion people announced to the world that it has not seen a new case in three years.

Just as we fought the good fight for child-labour laws and mandatory seatbelts – other societal contracts drawn up to save and improve children’s lives – it’s time to look at mandatory vaccination.

Our children deserve no less.

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