EDITORIAL: Yukon is not immune to a measles outbreak

With confirmed cases around Canada, the Yukon can’t be complacent

British Columbia is starting a measles immunization catch-up drive next month with the goal of vaccinating 95 per cent of the province’s youth.

Officials there are working to protect children amid 19 confirmed measles cases.

North of 60, the N.W.T.’s chief public health officer declared a smaller measles outbreak earlier this month in Inuvik.

Hopefully Yukon is paying attention. There is no reason to think that a local outbreak couldn’t happened here even if we haven’t seen cases yet.

According to the Globe and Mail, provincial data from 2018 indicates 82 per cent of seven-year-olds in British Columbia have been immunized against measles. It’s a number the province’s health minister has publicly said needs to be improved.

Yukon’s immunization rate is only slightly higher. According to the most recently available data from the territory’s health department, about 88 per cent of seven-year-olds were immunized as of 2017.

We cannot allow ourselves be complacent when it comes to preventable diseases. As northerners get older it is easy for us to forget the tragedy that unfolded when these kind of diseases ran rampant.

The World Health Organization estimates that vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015.

That same organization has since declared “vaccine hesitancy” – the delay in acceptance or refusal of vaccines despite availability – as a top health threat in 2019. Measles, it says, has seen a 30 per cent increase in cases globally.

Complacency, inconvenience in accessing vaccines, and a lack of confidence are all listed as reasons why people don’t vaccinate.

It is that last point that is the most terrifying and hard to overcome.

Somehow, as we move further away from first-hand memories of wide-spread, deadly, measles outbreaks, there is a population that has congregated, mostly online, to spread nonsensical conspiracy theories about vaccines. They do this while insisting they are under-appreciated geniuses for refusing to believe in science.

CBC managed to track down the father whose family was at the centre of the measles outbreak in Vancouver. He said he didn’t vaccinate his children because of a fear that the vaccine causes autism.

He insists that he is not an anti-vaxxer, and knows now the link between the MMR vaccine and autism has been debunked. He says he was just trying to be “cautious.”

This is proof that parroting online quackery is dangerous. Reputable medical sources say there is no link between vaccines and autism. Spouting lies and new age spin only serves to embolden the uneducated and hoist unnecessary shame on the parents of children with autism who have done nothing to cause their child’s disability.

Those who choose not to vaccinate are not only putting themselves at risk. They are also a threat to people who actually can’t get immunized, including infants.

In Canada only a few jurisdictions require that children be immunized to attend school. Currently Yukon is not one of those places. Leaders here should consider changing that.

As the desire to trust conspiracies over science grows, the territory needs to consider all the moves it could make to protect our children.

(AJ)

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