May 23, 2019

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Measles risk elevated in some neighbourhoods 

Immunization gap hurts all of us

According to the data analyzed last year by public health, only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 have received the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. That’s well below the Manitoba average of 73 per cent.

(ARTURS BUDKEVICS/DREAMSTIME/TNS)

According to the data analyzed last year by public health, only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 have received the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. That’s well below the Manitoba average of 73 per cent.

Recent reports of measles outbreaks on Vancouver Island, Montreal, Ottawa and New York may have many Winnipeg parents and health-care providers wondering: could the same thing happen here?

The answer: yes.

Manitoba has been relatively lucky when it comes to measles, with only a handful of cases reported over the last few years. But a recent research project carried out by Manitoba Public Health suggests the risk of an outbreak may be greater than most people realize.

According to the data analyzed last year by public health, only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 have received the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. That’s well below the Manitoba average of 73 per cent.

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Recent reports of measles outbreaks on Vancouver Island, Montreal, Ottawa and New York may have many Winnipeg parents and health-care providers wondering: could the same thing happen here?

The answer: yes.

Manitoba has been relatively lucky when it comes to measles, with only a handful of cases reported over the last few years. But a recent research project carried out by Manitoba Public Health suggests the risk of an outbreak may be greater than most people realize.

According to the data analyzed last year by public health, only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 have received the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. That’s well below the Manitoba average of 73 per cent.

The numbers represents a serious erosion of "herd immunity," which is the term used to describe the protection afforded when a sizable proportion of a given population — say 90 to 95 per cent — are vaccinated against various infections such as measles

The relatively low immunization rate means as many as one in three Winnipeg children born in 2008 may be at risk for measles — and the risk may higher depending on which part of the city a child lives. The numbers show rates in the city range from a low of 55 per cent in St. Vital North to a high of 76 per cent in St. James-Assiniboia West and River East North.

Meanwhile, the recent surge in outbreaks of measles in Canada and United States is concerning.

Public officials are often caught between a rock and hard place when it comes to raising awareness about potential health issues such as measles. (I don’t want panic, but I don’t want to underplay the potential for a serious outbreak, either.)

In this case, the facts speak for themselves: measles is a serious public health threat. And while most children will recover from the infectious disease, children with measles are at risk for serious complications that can affect the lungs and brain, and may even cause death.

Reducing the risk of a measles outbreak in our city is both an individual and community responsibility.

First and foremost, make sure you and your children’s immunizations are up to date. It is recommended children receive two doses of the measles vaccine, the first at 12 to 15 months of age, and the second at four to six years. The effectiveness of a single dose is estimated to be 85 to 95 per cent. With a second dose, efficacy is almost 100 per cent.

If you are travelling, talk to your health-care provider and ask whether your child is properly immunized. (If you aren’t sure about which immunizations are due when, check the schedule online at Manitoba Health’s website.)

Second, make an effort to learn more about the measles vaccine.

Misinformation campaigns, particularly on social media, have been one of the attempted measures to erode trust in vaccines. Fortunately, social media platforms are beginning to take action to correct the dissemination of misinformation but we must all do more to build trust. It is now more important than ever people address their concerns and educate themselves about the role immunization plays in preventing disease.

Health professionals can also do more. It is important health-care providers assess the vaccination needs of their practice populations and develop strategies to address the immunization gap.

Public health officials across the country are doing their part by supporting National Immunization Awareness Week, which starts Saturday (April 20). It’s the perfect time to talk to your health-care provider to address any concerns you may have about immunization.

In addition, people looking for information online can visit Immunize Canada’s website, which offers numerous resources, including detailed information on various infectious diseases and a parent’s guide to immunization.

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority.

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