Written by: Simran Randhawa, Peak Associate
Measles is a highly infectious, contagious disease, spread by the measles virus. The symptoms tend to resemble that of a flu, but it can be quite dangerous to children if they haven’t been immunized. According to the CDC, there is still a 3% chance to get measles even if you’ve received two doses of vaccine. Nonetheless, the MMR (measles-mumps-rubella) vaccine has kept the number of cases low since its introduction in the ‘80s.
Unfortunately, the new wave of anti-vaccinators have increased cases of measles exponentially. Measles has had a sudden outburst in B.C., with the assumed reason being a lack of children being vaccinated because of parents fears of vaccines themselves risking their child’s health and causing autism. In response, there’s been outcry to make vaccination mandatory. This is far from a new idea, as there are already nine countries in Europe that take a hard stance on vaccination, which range from having MMR being recommended to fully mandatory.
While this would be a beneficial policy, it could be hard to establish, given the pushback from anti-vaccination advocates that may have caused this measles outbreak to begin with. Some countries, particularly Australia, offer financial incentives to encourage parents to vaccinate children by their own volition.
Similar financial incentives might be the direction Canada should be taking before going directly into a mandatory policy.
The measles outbreak in B.C. is nothing in comparison to the recent outbreak in Europe, but it could be on its way in Canada. According to the World Health Organization, the cases in Europe increased to nearly 24,000 in 2017, compared to only a little over 5,000 in 2016. B.C. is not hitting those numbers yet, but could reach that point given enough time and little responses.
But countering this through mandatory vaccination may be the best way to avoid more cases, as it’s a hard stance that may not be openly accepted by parents who still believe that vaccination causes autism. Diving directly into pushing mandatory vaccines on those who still reject vaccines may create more push-back, meaning it’ll stay just as difficult to prevent preventable diseases.
In the meantime, there is a middle ground in some places of Canada between mandatory and optional vaccinations. In Ontario and New Brunswick, they follow a mandatory reporting model where the parents keep track of the vaccines their children have received (or haven’t) through a vaccination card to provide to schools and healthcare providers. With this standardized form of information and notification, the non-vaccinated children can be required to stay home until the outbreak ends, and the extent of vaccinations can be known to the institutions involved.
This may not solve an ongoing outbreak, but does inform the healthcare system of everything they need to know so that they prevent outbreaks from spreading too far. While this guarantee vaccination, it at least takes a step towards safety for those refusing to vaccinate. Financial incentives on top of this mandatory reporting policy may therefore be a smoother and safer way to prevent outbreaks like in B.C., while leading to more children getting vaccinated over time.
According to CBC, this sort of mandatory reporting is being strongly considered in B.C. In an ideal world, people would be vaccinating their children by their own volition, which a mandatory policy will probably not accomplish right away. As it is, though, the prospect of mandatory reporting and options like financial incentives could get us closer to that point than making vaccines themselves mandatory out of the gate. Hopefully things don’t get worse before they get better.