A Vancouver father is calling on parents to vaccinate their children for chickenpox after his son nearly died from the disease while his immune system was compromised during chemotherapy.
Jason Lawson's 10-year-old son Beckett has been in and out of hospital for most of his life for cancer treatment, but Lawson says one of the scariest moments came when the boy caught chickenpox from a classmate at school.
Lawson says his son was vaccinated, but chemotherapy for his leukemia destroyed his immune system — making him susceptible to the disease – and he spent 10 days in the intensive care unit recovering.
"We almost get to the end of the treatment of his cancer and here we are back in the hospital for a preventable illness contracted by someone who didn't have to have it," says Lawson.
Beckett has fully recovered from the infection, but his father hopes others will listen to his son's story and get their children vaccinated.
"It's not just a decision about yourself. It's a decision about your community," says Lawson.
"You need to make the decision to protect yourself and your children, but ultimately you have to make that decision knowing that you are protecting the community and people out there who might be weaker than you at the moment."
"There are kids like Becket that are going through cancer, but there are also many adults who are going through cancer and many elderly people."
Vancouver Coastal Health says a free vaccine covers the chickenpox and parents should to consult their family physicians to receive it.
While serious childhood diseases such as polio and diphtheria are becoming rarer due to routine childhood vaccination programs, according to VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar, there’s still cause for concern.
A recent outbreak of measles in B.C. has been linked to a Fraser Valley schools where many parents did not vaccinate thier children.
“As we saw with the recent measles outbreak in the Fraser Valley, and now in Alberta, these diseases are highly infectious and can spread quickly among those who aren’t vaccinated," said Dawar.
According to the B.C. Centre for Disease Control chickenpox is a common illness that causes an itchy rash and red spots or blisters (pox) all over the body.
It is most common in children, but most people will get chickenpox at some point in their lives if they have not had the chickenpox vaccine. Chickenpox usually isn't serious in healthy children, but it can cause problems for:
- pregnant women
- adults, and
- people who have immune system problems that make it hard for the body to fight infection.
Signs and symptoms of chickenpox may include:
- A fever and feeling tired before a rash develops
- Small, red, flat spots that usually first appear on stomach, back, face, and scalp and then spread to the rest of the body
- The spots develop into fluid-filled blisters which are usually less than a quarter inch wide and have a red base
- After the blisters break, the open sores will become covered by dry, brown scabs
The chickenpox vaccine is free and is available for all people in B.C. who are over one year of age and have not had chickenpox disease after 12 months of age. If given within five days of exposure to chickenpox disease, it can prevent or reduce the severity of chickenpox.