Whooping cough hits home for former anti-vaxxer

Naomi Murray’s baby contracted whooping cough after being exposed to the infection by an unvaccinated family friend. The mother of three is furious people choose not to vaccinate despite the fact she once supported the anti-vaccine movement.

'I should be able to feel that my family is safe when we're hanging out with our friends'

Naomi Murray says her 4-month old daughter Phoenix caught whooping cough from an unvaccinated child 1:14

An outbreak of whooping cough in southern Manitoba has one mother furious with the anti-vaccine movement.

Winkler mom Naomi Murray's four-month-old daughter Phoenix is still recovering from a case of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough. It's a highly infectious, potentially fatal respiratory infection that can be prevented by a vaccine.

"I was on the phone with public health and I was yelling a lot, because I was so mad with unvaccinated parents and blaming them," said Murray, 33.
Naomi and Brad Murray play with their four-month-old daughter Phoenix, who is recovering from a bout of whooping cough. (CBC)

The mother of three hadn't been through anything like it with her two older children. 

Murray believes her daughter contracted whooping cough from an unvaccinated family friend.

"I vaccinated her, but she just so happened [to be] in that percentile that doesn't get immunity right away," said Murray.

A 2015 Statistics Canada report states 77 per cent of two-year-olds are vaccinated for whooping cough. Herd immunity is achieved when 92 to 94 per cent of individuals are vaccinated for whooping cough, according to the United Nations.

The fact some people chose not to vaccinate themselves or their children offends Murray.

"I should be able to feel that my family is safe when we're hanging out with our friends," she said.

Former anti-vaxxer now angry at movement

Murray said she was once a vaccine skeptic but her husband, Brad Murray, insisted Phoenix be vaccinated. She's now angry the anti-vaccine movement exists.

"When I was an anti-vaxxer, I didn't want to put this stuff into my kids, like the mercury and the formaldehyde, but really if you look at it, apples have formaldehyde," she said.

Formaldehyde is a naturally occurring organic compound used early in the manufacturing process of vaccines to kill viruses and toxins, but purification removes nearly all traces of it, says Immunize Canada, a coalition of doctors and health professionals. No vaccines in Canada have contained mercury since 2001, except the influenza vaccine.

"Why are you playing Russian Roulette with your child's life?" asked Murray of anti-vaccine supporters, "I just don't understand it. I don't understand how you can opt out of something that's free.… Why are you OK with putting other people at risk? Why are you OK with that?"

While baby Phoenix is now at home in Winkler after five days at the Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre Children's Hospital, her recovery from whooping cough isn't over. Murray said she still sleeps beside Phoenix's bed at night to make sure a persistent cough doesn't stop her from breathing.

Phoenix Murray is part of an ongoing outbreak of whooping cough in southern Manitoba. The outbreak began in August and so far about 40 cases have been reported, four times the normal level.

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