Meena Dawar | June 1st, 2015
As a mother, I would do anything to protect my children and ensure they have the healthiest—and happiest—childhood possible. Of course I am not alone. Parents routinely protect their children against preventable injuries by ensuring they wear a seatbelt, are strapped into age-appropriate car seats and wear a helmet when biking or skating. Similarly, medicine has progressed incredibly over the last half-century, to the point that parents and children no longer need to worry about life threatening or crippling diseases like small pox or polio. Surprisingly, the benefits of inoculation were recognized as early as the 17th century in China. Thanks to the hard work of these early medical pioneers, the efforts of modern day scientists and the government’s interest in funding many of these vaccines, we’ve been able to completely eradicate small pox and control many other diseases that caused so much pain and suffering in the past.
As a physician, I know that vaccines are safe and will protect my children. It doesn’t matter that many of the diseases we’re currently immunized against are now rare in the Western world; in today’s highly connected and globalized world, it only takes one unimmunized person to board a plane and bring a disease with them. And when others in the community aren’t immunized, it doesn’t take long for that disease to spread. One only needs to look at how quickly and how far the measles spread when an infected person spent time at Disneyland earlier this year.
Nowadays, parents have many reasons for not immunizing their children, whether it’s religious beliefs or the thought that vaccines aren’t safe. Vaccines aren’t mandatory in BC, but here are the facts: it’s much safer to get the vaccine that to get the disease. Vaccines are the best way to protect children against these serious and sometimes fatal diseases. And getting immunized isn’t just about protecting your own kids, but the whole community. Take the story of 15 year-old Andrew Westerlund.
Already in his short life, Andrew has been diagnosed with cancer, a rare autoimmune disorder and has had a heart transplant. He has to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life, which compromise his immune system and leaves him susceptible to complications—and possibly death—when exposed to illnesses. Something as harmless as chicken pox can be dangerous for Andrew. His mother is literally scared to send him to school—something so basic and important for all children—because he could get dangerously ill. Andrew does what he can to protect himself, like washing his hands a lot and staying away from people who look sick, but unfortunately that isn’t a guarantee. The only real guarantee he has is something called herd immunity—meaning he has a measure of protection because a large percentage of the population is immune to an infection. And that’s achieved through immunization. As Andrew’s mother says, “As parents, don’t we owe it to people like my son to do everything we can to protect them?”
Andrew and his mother feel so strongly about the issue that they’ve agreed to be the face of VCH’s upcoming Kindergarten immunization campaign, which reminds parents to update their children’s vaccines now before the rush of back-to-school shopping and planning begins.
Health care providers have worked hard to identify why vaccine coverage may be low in certain areas. In VCH, we’ve improved access to public health child immunization clinics by opening evening and drop-in clinics, immunizing children at school, sending reminder notices to patents at regular intervals, and calling parents who live in areas with low coverage. We know that family life is very busy, particularly for parents of young children. It takes time to find your child’s records, make an appointment, and go to a clinic. But this is extremely important. For the sake of our children—your children, my children, and children like Andrew—please have your kids immunized before kindergarten starts this fall. Protect them so that they are healthy and ready to embrace learning.
Vaccines can be obtained for free from family doctors or from public health nurses at VCH community health centres. A map of clinic dates and times is available at www.vch.ca/kindergarten-vaccines.