November 14, 2019

Winnipeg
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Low vaccination rates troubling

Editorial

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2019 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 23/4/2019 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It would be easy — but wrong — to deride St. Vital and Fort Garry as hotbeds of anti-vaxxers who reject scientific proof that vaccinations are effective, in the same way some conspiracy theorists believe the U.S. moon landing was faked.

Recent analysis of immunization data by Manitoba health officials found only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 got the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. The areas of lowest vaccination coverage are south Fort Garry at 58 per cent and north St. Vital at 55 per cent.

Officials are understandably alarmed because Winnipeg’s rate is far lower than the target of 90 to 95 per cent vaccination considered necessary for what virologists call "herd immunity." What is less clear from the Manitoba study is why Winnipeg is letting down the herd.

Winnipeg’s vaccination rates are cause for concern since they are too low to be considered necessary for what virologists call herd immunity. (Lukas Schulze / DPA files)

Winnipeg’s vaccination rates are cause for concern since they are too low to be considered necessary for what virologists call herd immunity. (Lukas Schulze / DPA files)

It’s false to assume people opposed to vaccines are uninformed, paranoid or less intelligent, according to Joshua Greenberg, who led a 2017 study called Vaccine Hesitancy: In Search of the Risk Communication Comfort Zone. He found people who don’t vaccinate are often more educated than the general public.

"The anti-vaxxer is a spectre. It’s character in a narrative. We often inflate the degree of that problem," Mr. Greenberg said in a recent interview.

Researchers found anti-vaxxers make up one to three per cent of the population. A larger category, 30 per cent of Canadians, are what researchers call "vaccine hesitant": 27 per cent of that group worry vaccines might harm their children, and 33 per cent are suspicious of the pharmaceutical industry. Also, some vegetarians and vegans are concerned vaccines can contain traces of cow tallow, pork gelatin and egg yolk, and a few religious groups forbid vaccinations.

Measles vaccination rates

Percentage of 2008 birth cohort receiving 2 of 2 doses

0 %

50

60

70

80

100

Seven Oaks

Inkster

Transcona

St. James

Downtown

Assiniboine South

St. Vital

St. Vital North

55%

Fort Garry South

58%

Source: Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Measles vaccination rates

Percentage of 2008 birth cohort receiving 2 of 2 doses

0 %

50

60

70

80

100

Seven Oaks

Inkster

Transcona

St. James

Downtown

Assiniboine South

St. Vital

St. Vital North

55%

Fort Garry South

58%

Source: Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

Seven Oaks

Inkster

Measles vaccination rates

Percentage of 2008 birth cohort receiving 2 of 2 doses

Transcona

St. James

Downtown

Assiniboine South

0 %

50

60

70

80

100

St. Vital

St. Vital North

55%

Fort Garry South

58%

Source: Winnipeg Regional Health Authority

These people would have every right to refuse vaccinations and tell the rest of us to mind our own business, except for one factor: the greater good. Unvaccinated Winnipeggers can transmit the virus as they mingle in various places, including schools. That makes vaccinations everybody’s business.

When it comes to communicable infections, the delicate question of when personal rights can be trumped by the greater good invariably leads to the suggestion of mandatory vaccinations.

Ontario and New Brunswick require proof of immunization for children to attend school, although they make exceptions for medical, religious or ideological reasons.

At their annual conference last year, Manitoba school trustees defeated a motion to lobby the provincial government to make vaccination necessary for school entry. While the trustees’ regard for the rights of the individual is admirable, their vote did nothing to get more kids vaccinated.

Manitoba should give careful consideration to a strategy B.C. plans to introduce in September: not mandatory vaccinations, but mandatory reporting of vaccinations. Kids don’t need to be vaccinated, but schools need to know who is and who isn’t.

These records will let public health officials provide reliable information to families that didn’t vaccinate, and also follow up with parents who perhaps simply didn’t get around to it. Officials could also offer mobile clinics in areas of extremely low vaccination rates.

Recent analysis of immunization data by Manitoba health officials found only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 got the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. (Seth Wenig / The Associated Press files)

Recent analysis of immunization data by Manitoba health officials found only 67 per cent of Winnipeg children born in 2008 got the recommended two doses of measles vaccine. (Seth Wenig / The Associated Press files)

If B.C.’s model of mandatory reporting doesn’t help improve Winnipeg’s dangerously low vaccination rate, Manitoba should consider following the lead of Ontario and New Brunswick.

It’s the choice of parents not to vaccinate, but such choices have consequences, which can include unvaccinated children being kept away from others.

A better choice for parents is to get reliably informed about how vaccinations are in the best interest of both their children and the greater community.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board.

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