The future of vaccinations, from a legal standpoint, is still in the air regarding who should hold the rights (government or parents).
Science does not have all the answers. However, through the progression of time, we have developed tools, technologies and the intelligence to address seemingly impossible problems, especially in the arena of health.
By establishing procedures that tackle contagious, harmful and even fatal diseases, global human expectancy has doubled in the last century. One such treatment is that of vaccinations, or immunizations, often described as a training course for the immune system that provides immunity to a disease. From a social standpoint, conflicting views exist in the debate surrounding whether immunizations for kids should be regulated, or if the choice should remain completely in the hands of parents.
To spark a conversation, one must understand how vaccinations work. According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, vaccines are made using killed or weakened versions of the disease-causing germ or parts of the germ, called antigens. Upon recognizing foreign entry, your body responds by releasing antibodies to fight the antigens. Since the body will remember how to fight these germs, you will not get sick if you are ever exposed them in the future. Gianni Del Negro, London Drugs Pharmacy Manager, shares that beyond the individual, immunizing also helps to protect the health of our community, specifically those people who cannot be immunized – children who are too young to be vaccinated, or those who can’t receive certain vaccines for medical reasons – and the small proportion of people who do not respond to a particular vaccine. Finally, vaccinations save time, expenditure and medical bills for sicknesses that can be prevented.
While countries such as Australia and Italy have successfully regulated vaccinations, no jurisdictions in Canada currently require vaccinations for students. Gurminder Singh, new parent to a four-month-old baby, recalls that nurses provided various pamphlets when they were discharged from the hospital, one of which was a Health Passport containing information and tracking aids for their child’s vaccinations. In Singh’s opinion, vaccinations are undoubtedly necessary for a child’s development, “Children’s immune systems are usually already less strong in countries like Canada, where children are exposed to less bacteria, dirt and germs. Vaccines are a good thing, without denial. Although not an obligation, doctors do make it sound like you have to get them done. For schools, vaccination records are important documents as they do not want other kids to be affected.”
When it comes to parents opposing vaccinations, the proportion is very small, as per Dr. Julie Bettinger, PhD, MPH, who is a Vaccine Safety Scientist at the Vaccine Evaluation Center, a leading center for applied vaccine research in Canada. Research has shown that 1-2 per cent of people cannot be convinced to vaccinate, while 15-20 per cent have questions and want more information. For those undecided, we know that their relationships with their health care provider is very important because it can influence their thoughts on vaccines. Jagjit Sandhu, mother of two young children, explains that her source of information was her doctor, “Foremost, we saw that everyone gets their kids vaccinated, so we deemed it appropriate to do so as well. That said, it was our doctor who gave us advice and told us exactly where to go.”
With the primary concern of wanting the best for their child amidst a confusing maze of information-overload, Dr. Bettinger shares parents’ perspective, “Parents tell me there are three main factors [that] impact their vaccination decision making: anxiety, accessibility and trust.” She further reveals that British Columbia has the lowest vaccine coverage rates in Canada and Canada has the lowest rates in North America, although this can arguably be linked to the lack of a real time vaccination register system, reflecting opportunity for busting misconceptions on a national level. In similar light, Dr. Pargat Singh Bhurji, pediatrician and neonatologist, specializing in the care of newborns, children and teenagers, claims that education is the key to such parental anxiety.
Three common myths surrounding immunization:
Myth #1 “Vaccinations will somehow harm my child or result in serious side-effects.”
Fact: With over 25 years of pharmacy experience, Del Negro assures that side effects from vaccines are generally very mild and self-limiting such as soreness at the injection site or a mild fever. Serious side effects such as life-threatening reactions are extremely rare and are generally estimated to be 1 in 1,000,000. A common misbelief is that vaccinations are causally related to autism, which has been disproved by numerous studies.
Myth #2 “Canada is a safe country. My child can never get sick here anyway, so there is no point of vaccinations.”
Fact: If there was no reason to vaccinate, we would not have them at all. Diseases can come from many sources. When we travel and are not immunized, we open the door to danger. Consider the measles scare, which came from Vietnam.
Myth #3 “It is part of my belief system to not inject anything in the body.”
Fact: Opting out can result in severe complications and even fatal outcomes – a state of being that could have been avoided. Speaking of the situation 100 years ago, Dr. Bhurji suggests that we had no choice at the time. However, it is now important to look past traditional methods as we live in a comparatively medically-advanced era.
Evidently, irrefutable evidence exists when it comes to the benefits of immunization as the most cost-effective way to prevent infectious diseases, saving countless lives. Historically the leading cause of death, infectious diseases now account for less than five per cent of deaths in Canada. It is also mentionable that vaccinations are not limited to one’s childhood. Vaccination records should be revisited by adults and medical professional should be consulted as one’s immunity may decrease over time; blood tests can be done to measure antibody levels.
The future of vaccinations, from a legal standpoint, is still in the air regarding who should hold the rights (government or parents). Discussions about restricting the advertising of anti-vaccine messages, incentives or tax breaks for parents that do vaccinate children, and other mandatory alternatives are currently in the limelight. For now, the ultimate reigns remain in the hands of parents. Due to the influx of misinformation on platforms such as social media, and even other people, it is essential for parents to seek information from medical professionals and make an informed decision. An action that seems trivial now holds life-changing power – for the better, or for the worse. Prevention is better than cure.