Why You Should Never Hesitate When it Comes to Vaccinations

Thanks to decades of immunization programs, the rates of infectious diseases like measles and mumps have been drastically reduced in Canada.

These diseases have not been eradicated, however.

Vaccine hesitancy – the reluctance of parents to get their children vaccinated – is seen by public-health professionals as another type of infectious virus, spread through misinformation and myths.

“If an increasing number of parents choose not to vaccinate, then more people in a population would be susceptible to the infection and herd immunity diminishes, which increases the risk of outbreaks,” says Dr. Jennifer Cram, the regional medical officer of health for the western zone of Nova Scotia.

Ideally, 95% of young children should be fully vaccinated. In a 2015 national survey, 97% of parents agreed that childhood vaccines are safe and effective. But according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, only 71.7% of seven-year-olds in Nova Scotia had received both doses of measles vaccination in 2013.

Helping concerned parents access clear, easy-to-understand information plays an important role in boosting immunization rates.

Why are vaccines important for infants and children?
For many vaccine-preventable infections, infants and young children are at the greatest risk for developing the most severe illness, which could lead to hospitalization or death, Dr. Cram says.

There have been outbreaks of measles, mumps and pertussis in Canadian communities, she adds, and global travel makes it easy to spread infections.

“Their immune systems may not have developed enough defense to fight off the infection. For these diseases, vaccines are recommended at the youngest age that the vaccine is both effective and safe.”

When parents follow Nova Scotia’s immunization schedule, they’re offering the best protection early on to their babies and children. “Do not wait to protect your child when they need the protection the most,” Dr. Cram says.

Are vaccines safe?
Yes. Vaccines are among the most strictly regulated medical products in Canada. The Public Health Agency of Canada, public health officials, and health-care providers all closely oversee their safety. Health Canada will not even consider a vaccine for approval until it has undergone rigorous research and development for about 10 years.

Is it safe to use homeopathy or alternative medicine instead?
There are no suitable substitutes for the protection offered by conventional vaccines, and there are risks to using homeopathy or replacements.

“Your child will not develop immunity against the vaccine-preventable disease with ‘alternates’ and is then at risk of contracting the disease,” says Dr. Cram. “If your child becomes infected, they could spread that infection to other vulnerable people, especially those who are not able to get the vaccines themselves.”

How can parents break through the misinformation on vaccines?
The best thing vaccine-hesitant parents can do is to seek out credible information and to critically think about the information they get from social media, Dr. Cram says.

“It can be hard to determine which sources are credible, and it is reassuring that physicians remain the most trusted source of information on vaccines. Your physician can help you navigate that information.”

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