Vaccine clinics are being offered in Lethbridge, Alta., after it was confirmed two students have been treated for measles.

Dr. Vivien Suttorp, the medical officer of health for the south zone, says the biggest concern is the low rate of immunization because it is well beyond the requirements for herd immunity — meaning a larger risk of outbreak.

Suttorp says classmates who haven't had the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine and were exposed to the two students will be quarantined at home for 21 days. 

  • Listen to Suttorp's full interview on The Homestretch below.​

The provincial measles, mumps and rubella vaccine immunization rate in Alberta is 84 per cent, but drops to 61 per cent in Lethbridge County and 79 per cent in Lethbridge. Suttorp says more than 85 per cent is needed for the best community immunity. 

"You have sub-optimal vaccination rates, so you have a large proportion of susceptible individuals in that population and that's how these sort of diseases — and measles is very, very contagious — ... spread," said Dr. Glen Armstrong, a microbiologist at the University of Calgary.

Suttorp said measles has significant impacts on children.

"Measles is still a concerning disease," she said. "There is a reason why we have vaccines for measles, and would like to eradicate measles world-wide — no different than polio."

Clinics being held at Lethbridge Exhibition Park:

  • October 26: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Heritage Hall
  • October 28: 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Main Pavilion (south entrance) 

Alberta Health Services (AHS) has opened a portable isolation containment tent outside the Chinook Regional Hospital.

"Medical staff will be able to direct patients with susp​ected measles away from physician offices and emergency departments to minimize exposure and contamination within the facilities," said health officials in a release.

The push now is on to contain the virus. Alberta Health Services is holding public immunization clinics in Lethbridge for babies aged six months to a year. 

"Because of the current situation, the MMR vaccine is available to younger infants,” said Suttorp.

“It is safe and effective. Infants will still require the regular immunization at one year and again at four to six years of age.”

Kathleen Prince hasn't immunized her kids for measles and says it's the topic of family debate right now.

"I have family members who are pro-vaccination and family members who are against it," she said. "I'm on the fence."

Measles debate

Lethbridge resident Kathleen Prince says she is on the fence when it comes to immunizing her young children. (Devin Heroux/CBC)

People outside the Lethbridge area who want to be immunized are being advised to contact their local public health office to see if their vaccinations are up-to-date.

AHS says symptoms of measles include fever, cough, runny nose or red eyes and a red blotchy rash that appears three to seven days after fever starts.

The rash typically begins behind the ears and on the face, spreading down to the body, and finally to the arms and legs. Measles can spread by coughing and sneezing, or through air currents. Because it is an airborne disease, it is extremely contagious.

There is no cure for measles, but it can be prevented with vaccination.

Measles sign

Medical health officers in Lethbridge say they are bracing for a larger measles outbreak. (Devin Heroux/CBC)