Youths are increasingly contracting preventable childhood illnesses, such as measles and mumps; of those that can be prevented, measles is currently the top cause of death among people under five years old.
This week in Toronto, the City of Toronto announced that it will purchase approximately 2.7 million doses of measles, mumps and rubella vaccine from GSK, a British pharmaceutical company, to arm young families with this life-saving vaccine.
A small in-house immunization clinic will operate throughout the week in five outlying wards and offer free vaccines for those between the ages of six months and five years old, specifically aimed at making the COVID-19 vaccine — not required in Canada until now — available in more homes across the city.
The vaccinations will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
The news comes in response to a measles outbreak that has claimed the lives of at least 21 people over the past two months in British Columbia, a province that does not mandate the measles vaccine. According to the Vancouver Sun, the outbreak has spread to Ottawa, Windsor, Mississauga and Halifax.
Delayed implementation of mandatory vaccination
In Canada, a child can only receive one dose of the vaccine at the time of birth. However, new government legislation introduced in May would make parents responsible for providing their children with the vaccine if they were to develop a disease on a “notifiable” basis — the Global Centre for Disease Control defines this as a disease that is “endemic, communicable, spreading widely or presenting with symptoms requiring hospitalization or intensive care.”
A negative result on a so-called “notifiable” disease could not be transferred from the disease victim to the rest of the community. Thus, the proposed legislation would allow doctors to refuse vaccination on a case-by-case basis.
According to recent reports, the legislation would “effectively repeal” Canada’s mandatory vaccination policy of 1971 — which was aimed at protecting against tuberculosis and tetanus — by expanding the exemption criteria to allow children to opt out of a vaccine if they fell ill with a disease that required hospitalization.
Still, British Columbia, Ontario and Quebec have all chosen to maintain their strict mandatory vaccination policies; a notable exception among those provinces is Alberta, which does not make mandatory the MMR vaccine.
“All medications carry a price tag, right? Not all vaccines are created equal, and the costs associated with diphtheria, polio and measles vaccines are substantially higher than vaccines against chicken pox, whooping cough and whooping cough,” said Donna Crowley, public health officer for Toronto.
“This vaccine is what makes an entirely preventable disease like measles, mumps and rubella possible again. When a child comes down with whooping cough or pertussis, it’s because they received their MMR vaccine. Unfortunately, through one or more of those outbreaks that we’ve seen in recent years, it’s on the rise once again,” Crowley added.
“We’re talking about child health. We don’t have to have this debate any more. Vaccination is the most popular thing in the world. It’s more popular than Star Wars, the new Harry Potter, the Super Bowl, hoverboards and Taco Bell. It’s incredible.”
Currently, there are no shortages of the vaccine in Canada, according to Justin Lowe, a spokesperson for Canada’s Public Health Agency. He says the BC government is able to procure the vaccine by trading with other provinces.