Hard to Fathom Parents Opting Out of Vaccinations

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A while back, I was asked if during my tenure with the public school board there was an issue about non-immunized children attending school.  

The easy answer was no, or at least not to my knowledge. More recently I was asked whether non-immunized children should be allowed to attend a public school.  

It was our parents’ or grandparents’ generation first to benefit from mass immunization. Prior to public vaccination programs and the introduction of Medicare, if a child was sick, a working family had to think long and hard about the affordability of seeing a doctor. 

Too often, by the time the child was taken to a doctor, the damage from what are now easily-controlled diseases was already significant and sometimes resulted in death.  

When vaccines became available, they were frequently provided at school. A notice would be sent home advising parents that on a specified date their children would be vaccinated unless the parents contacted the school to countermand the inoculation.   

Our society was grateful that children would enjoy a greatly-reduced chance of being infected by devastating diseases.

It is hard for me to fathom why a growing number of today’s parents are opting out of vaccinating their children against controllable diseases.

It is hard to imagine that anyone would believe Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the discredited anti-vaccine activist, who was struck off the United Kingdom’s medical registry for unethical behaviour, misconduct and dishonesty for authoring a fraudulent research paper that claimed a link between a vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella and autism. 

Autism spectrum disorder is attributed to genetics, not vaccinations. It is a brain development disorder that manifests in a wide range of symptoms and severity. The international science and medical communities have debunked Wakefield’s quackery, yet some still believe it — or at least use it as an excuse to not vaccinate their children.      

And then there are parents that believe diseases like measles, mumps, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), chicken pox, hepatitis and pneumococcal disease have been completely eradicated. They are wrong. Those diseases still exist, but the spread of these diseases has been and is being controlled through vaccination.  

With the advent of the anti-vaxxers, whooping cough is slowly making a comeback. Because of an increase in whooping cough cases, when our youngest grandchild was born, on advice of a doctor, we were once again inoculated to ensure we, if exposed, wouldn’t pass this disease to our grandchild. (Infants younger than six months are especially vulnerable to whooping cough and the complications can be life-threatening.)  

In 2018, New York City declared a public health emergency because of an outbreak of measles. British Columbia is reporting a measles outbreak in certain areas. Some serious consequences of measles can be blindness, encephalitis (brain swelling), ear infections and pneumonia, which can be life-threatening to young children.  

I’m not going to go through each of these diseases, but suffice to say all these diseases come with the potential of serious harm and we can be reasonably protected from all of them through vaccination.  

On the question of whether unvaccinated children should attend school, some anti-vaxxers assume that if most of the students are vaccinated, their children will not likely be exposed to an infectious disease or infect other students in the event their unvaccinated children become ill with an infectious disease.  

However, from the reading I have done, vaccinations will give a person about an 85 to 95 per cent likelihood of protection.

Regrettably, there are some children who cannot, for medical reasons, be fully vaccinated against some of these diseases. Also, people who suffer from compromised immune systems may be susceptible. 

Should they be put at risk because of a choice some parents make to not vaccinate their children? Well, I don’t get the sense that we are at that point yet, but if these diseases take hold again, we may have to look at alternatives for delivery of educational services to unvaccinated children in order to protect students (and staff) that have taken all reasonable precautions to safeguard themselves.

Should today’s parents be concerned as to whether daycare facilities or pre-school programs have children enrolled from anti-vaxxer homes where older siblings are unvaccinated?

If parents are following the schedule outlined by the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and thus have not yet fully completed all their child’s vaccines, then their young children could be at greater risk of infection during this transition period.   

There are risks associated with any medical intervention, but in the case of vaccinations, the rewards outweigh the risks.  

Yes, there can be side effects from vaccinations but by and large they are minimal. Parents are advised of the risks and what to do should their children exhibit symptoms. Interestingly, it seems that some unvaccinated teenagers are requesting vaccinations against their parents’ wishes, and if a doctor deems they are competent to understand and make that decision, they will often proceed with vaccination, although they may try to engage the parents in the process.  

Why am I writing about this? It’s because last week CBC reported on a cancer patient who, while fulfilling a lifelong dream trip granted by a charity, became infected with measles. She had been vaccinated, but her current illness made her vulnerable.

Then, on a recent visit to the Western Development Museum, I came upon an exhibit of an iron lung. It made me reminiscence about a family I was acquainted with decades ago who had a child maimed by polio. I can’t imagine any greater burden for parents than to see their child, whether it be an infant, adolescent or adult, suffer harmful consequences from a disease, especially if they could have prevented it.    

So, I am no closer to answering the initial question posed, but I do know that in the event of an outbreak of any of these diseases, I would not want my children or grandchildren in a classroom where they might be at risk.  

ehnatyshyn@gamil.com