(Editor’s note: This article first appeared in Northern Health’s Healthier You – Summer 2018 edition on Healthy Schools. Read the full issue here.)
Did you know that in this past century, in Canada, more lives have been saved due to immunizations than any other public health initiative? Even with this amazing fact, many people remain under- or un-immunized, and a recent B.C. incident highlights the risks posed by vaccine preventable diseases (VPD). The Okanagan experienced a meningitis outbreak last fall, with several people becoming ill. Sadly, there was one case where meningococcal disease contributed to death.
Immunizations, also known as vaccinations, help to protect you from getting a VPD. When you get vaccinated, you also help to protect others by interfering with a germ’s ability to spread (this effect is called herd or community immunity). It’s much safer to get vaccinated than to catch an infectious disease.
Consider what happens in the absence of vaccinations. Unvaccinated children contract vaccine preventable illnesses and diseases at higher rates than vaccinated children. Varicella (chicken pox) rates can be up to nine times higher, measles up to 35 times higher, and pertussis (whooping cough) up to between six and 28 times higher! Further, VPDs are more severe in infants and younger children. Delayed immunizations also increase the duration that a child is vulnerable to VPDs.
Northern Health is working to improve vaccination rates
Northern Health manages, allocates, and distributes $6 million dollars’ worth of publicly funded vaccine each year within the northern region, ensuring that vaccines are available to those who need them, when they need them. Northern Health is also conducting a quality improvement study to determine if an automated telephone message is a feasible and useful reminder for parents to bring their children in for vaccinations.
In other efforts, Northern Health is embarking on a childhood immunization strategy to ensure that all two-year-olds are fully caught up. This is accomplished by closely monitoring vaccination rates, increasing the promotion of immunizations, and improving access to vaccination services. Northern Health intends to increase the average immunization rate of 70%, to 75% next year, 85% by 2021, and 90% by 2023.
What you can do
It’s really simple: get vaccinated. Influenza season is here and most pharmacies and public health facilities offer flu shots. Look for locations via ImmunizeBC’s Flu Clinic locator website.
Other vaccines you might need as an adult depend not only on your age, lifestyle, overall health, pregnancy status, and travel plans, but also on those you have close contact with (think of infants under six months of age, the elderly, as well as people with depressed immune systems). What vaccines you had as a child is also a consideration. Talk with your health care provider about which vaccines you need. Finally, get your children vaccinated according to BC’s recommended vaccination schedule.
More information about immunizations
Please refer to the following excellent Canadian-based web resources:
- Find an Influenza (Flu) Clinic in BC
- BC Centre for Disease Control Immunization Schedule
- Get a text reminder for your child’s next vaccine appointment
- Evidence-based immunization information and tools for BC residents
- Public Health Agency of Canada: YouTube video on Vaccine Safety in Canada
- I Boost Immunity (IBI): A Canadian-based online grassroots immunization advocacy program
- Immunize Canada: Promoting the understanding and use of vaccines
- Government of Canada: A Parent’s Guide to Vaccination