Measles vaccination rates in Canada are down, says PHAC amid global concern – National

The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) shares the concerns of international health experts this week about the renewed risk of measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases in children.

In a statement to Global News Thursday, the agency noted that measles vaccine intake in Canada has fallen in recent years, but pointed to the COVID-19 pandemic and hesitancy among some parents as reasons for a current decline in vaccinations.

“Canada’s provinces and territories have indicated that the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in disruptions, delays and gaps in routine childhood immunizations,” the statement said.

There are currently no active cases of measles in the country, but three cases have been reported this year, according to the latest report from PHAC.

A joint report released Wednesday by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that measles is an “imminent” global threat because of declining vaccination coverage and weakened surveillance of the disease during the COVID-19 pandemic. 19 crisis. 19 pandemic.

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Measles spreads an imminent threat due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the WHO and CDC say

The report noted that by 2021, a record number of nearly 40 million children around the world had missed a dose of the measles vaccine as the pandemic disrupted and delayed routine immunization programs.

“It’s very concerning,” Shelly Bolotin, director of the Center for Vaccine Preventable Diseases at the University of Toronto, told Global News on Thursday.

“When coverage is low globally, it is a concern for all of us because we live in a globalized world and imports of measles from other countries come in from time to time.”

In line with WHO guidelines, Canada has set a target of 95 percent vaccination coverage for the first dose of measles at age two and a second dose at age seven.

A study conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic found that 90 percent of two-year-old children had received at least one dose of the measles vaccine. It is a two-dose vaccine and the second injection is given at 18 months or usually before the child starts school.

However, the pandemic has disrupted the country’s childhood vaccinations.

Click to play video: 'Possible consequences of not vaccinating against measles'

Possible consequences of not vaccinating against measles

In Ontario, thousands of students fell behind on vaccines commonly administered in schools, health officials warned in April.

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Routine immunizations usually given by doctors, such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, had also been delayed in some areas because of the pandemic, they said.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, provincial data for the Calgary zone in September showed that measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine immunization rates fell from 86 percent of children with two doses at age seven in 2019 to just under 78 per year. cent in 2021.

In an earlier interview with Global News, infectious disease specialist Dr Craig Jenne said the number is well below the 95 percent coverage needed to prevent a measles outbreak.

A combination of factors, such as continued social distancing measures and the cyclical nature of measles, may explain why there has not yet been an explosion of cases worldwide despite the widening immunity gap, but that could soon change, according to Patrick O’Connor, the leader of the WHO on measles.

“We are at a crossroads,” O’Connor told Reuters on Tuesday. “It’s going to be a very challenging 12-24 months to mitigate this.”

Click to play video: 'AHS raises alarm after confirmed measles case in Edmonton, St. Albert'

AHS raises alarm after confirmed case of measles in Edmonton, St. Albert

According to PHAC, measles was eradicated in Canada in 1998 thanks to vaccination efforts, but outbreaks do occasionally occur during international travel. However, the elimination was “verified again” in July this year.

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PHAC urges Canadians traveling abroad to refer to travel health bulletins for information on measles and rubella outbreaks in other countries.

“Measles is a threat everywhere, as the virus can spread rapidly to multiple communities and across international borders,” the WHO said.

Bolotin said public health reminders to parents about the importance of vaccination were “definitely” important given the new report’s findings, especially if their children’s appointments were missed during the height of the pandemic.

She also stressed that the measles vaccine is “incredibly safe,” despite some concerns among hesitant groups, and has been used effectively for decades.

“I hope, despite the conversations that have been had about COVID-19 (vaccines), that people have faith in this (measles) vaccine and have faith in the way their healthcare providers communicate with them,” she said.

Read more:

Measles cases rise 79% globally after COVID-19 hits childhood vaccination campaigns

Measles is a highly contagious and serious respiratory disease that can spread through direct contact or through the air when an infected person breathes, coughs or sneezes. The virus can also be transmitted by touching contaminated surfaces.

The first symptoms are high fever, runny nose, cough, watery eyes and small white spots in the mouth. A few days after the onset of the first symptoms, a red rash erupts on the face and body, lasting about a week.

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Bolotin called the measles vaccine coverage “the canary in the coal mine” for children’s health, due to the disease’s contagiousness. The infection period can begin up to four days before symptoms appear, she said, and can last up to four days after symptoms end.

“When something has gone wrong with children’s health, one of the first things that comes to mind is to vaccinate children to let us know they are measles outbreaks,” she said.

Despite the availability of a safe and effective vaccine, thousands of young children worldwide die each year from measles.

Last year, an estimated nine million measles cases and 128,000 deaths were reported, according to the WHO. Health Canada says there are more than 140,000 deaths on average each year, mostly involving children under the age of five.

– with files from Reuters and The Canadian Press

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