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Immunization rates dropping

Measles and mumps cases on the rise

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Garrick Kozier and Jackie Dumontet, holding the couple's 20-month-old son, Ethan, have made sure all their toddler's shots are up to date.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Garrick Kozier and Jackie Dumontet, holding the couple's 20-month-old son, Ethan, have made sure all their toddler's shots are up to date. Photo Store

Immunization rates in young children in Winnipeg are trending down at a time when a measles scare is grabbing headlines across Canada.

Data cobbled together by the United Way and the International Institute of Sustainable Development and released Thursday show a decline in the number of kids who've had the complete set of vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella. That includes the booster shot for measles children typically get just before they start school.

The immunization rate for seven-year-olds in Winnipeg has dropped nearly 10 points over the last decade, from 78.7 per cent in 2001 to 69.5 per cent in 2011.

Because coverage rates remain high, the recent dip isn't alarming for local public health officials -- yet. But it does raise eyebrows among some parents.

'When parents say they would do anything for their kid not to be sick, vaccines are your anything'

-- Jackie Dumontet, mother of 20-month-old son

"When parents say they would do anything for their kid not to be sick, vaccines are your anything," said Jackie Dumontet, whose toddler son Ethan's shots are up to date.

The immunization data, posted on the Peg community indicators website and based on the most recent Manitoba Health figures, mirrors an increase in the number of new cases of mumps and measles since 2012. The latest Manitoba Immunization Monitoring System report, for 2011, shows a similar dip in the number of kids getting all their shots. On average, 54.6 per cent of seven-year-olds in the province received the series of vaccinations required to be considered complete for their age. That's significantly below the 67.8 per cent of eligible seven-year-olds over the previous three years.

"It's really a reminder and a good wake-up call to not be complacent," said Carol Kurbis, a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

She said the rates of coverage for a single dose of the MMR vaccine, the one babies typically get at a year, still remain high.

Around 90 per cent of children have received at least one dose of MMR vaccine, which is effective in protecting 85 to 95 per cent of people who get the shot. Two doses, typically a booster at about five years old, is recommended for complete protection. With the booster, as many as 95 per cent of people are protected.

This week, Alberta health officials declared a measles outbreak after more than 20 cases were diagnosed. British Columbia's measles outbreak, the largest in a generation, is finally on the wane. In Manitoba, provincial health officials have found seven cases so far. Those outbreaks, coupled with the widespread discrediting of an old study linking vaccinations to autism, may now allow immunization rates to rebound.

Kurbis said the relative invisibility of diseases like polio and measles -- until this year -- could make some parents complacent. There are so many vaccines on the to-do list now it can be hard to keep children up to date. Prevention is often easiest to put off, she said.

Kurbis said the province is looking to use a new system of electronic patient charts to better track vaccines, as well as a new immunization registry.

Dumontet said nearly every parent in her circle of friends vaccinates their children, and frequent reminder letters from Manitoba Health and from doctors help keep the process on track.

She said the risk of becoming ill from diseases such as polio and measles, and the consequences to a child, far outweigh any concern she has about vaccines that have been thoroughly tested and in use for years.

"There are major public health implications" to ducking vaccines, said Dumontet. "You put others at risk."

maryagnes.welch@freepress.mb.ca adam.wazny@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 2, 2014 A3

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