An east Ottawa daycare that bills itself as "vaccine-free" is being criticized by Ottawa Public Health, which says it’s a health risk for students who go there.
Paapa and Melissa Abekah, who own the daycare, say they started looking into vaccines when they were expecting the birth of their child and decided not to vaccinate her.
"The first thing that we want to say is that everyone is entitled to their own opinion. This isn't to say those people who vaccinate don't have their child's best interest at heart," Paapa said.
"We thought let's look at what's in these vaccines, let's look at what some of the legislation is in place [in terms of] the companies who put these vaccines in place, let's look at vaccine injuries that have happened to people in Canada, the U.S., all over the world. After looking at all those things, our conclusion was, 'OK, we're not going to vaccinate.'"
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They said they set up their daycare for other parents who are worried about their child's health when they're around recently vaccinated people.
"The live vaccine that's administered to you, you carry that vaccine. It's a virus," Paapa said.
"You're a walking, living, breathing virus for at least 30 days, and in some cases longer. Your body is built to be able to fight it off; that's why [for] a lot of people there's no problem with the vaccine. But in cases where you have someone who is already immunodeficient and they get a vaccine, it's sometimes a recipe for trouble, that's where a vaccine injury happens a lot of the time."
Ottawa Public Health says licensed daycares have to either ensure that children they’re taking care of have vaccinations or a written exemption for medical, moral or religious reasons.
Marie-Claude Turcotte, its program manager for vaccine preventable disease, said the danger is that an infectious disease could pass easily among a group of children who aren't vaccinated.
"Assuming they’re unvaccinated from birth, it definitely is a concern for those children," she said.
"If there was a case where they were in contact with someone who has one of those contagious diseases, they would definitely be at risk."
Melissa Abekah said the children at their daycare have either not been vaccinated or have delayed their vaccination.
She said they don't require written proof that the people who bring their children there have refused vaccines for medical, moral or religious reasons, but do get them to sign a form saying their children aren't vaccinated and they recognize the daycare is a vaccine-free area.
No measles in Ottawa, but concern elsewhere
The daycare is being offered as officials in the City of Toronto and several American states warn about potential measles outbreaks after a number of recent confirmed cases.
Ottawa Public Health says there are currently no cases of measles in the City of Ottawa.
"We don't make our decisions based on fear. Most people will make decisions based on fear and what they can do to protect their child, hence the reason why they choose vaccination," Melissa Abekah said.
"If you take time to research what [measles] actually is, it's a rash and a fever, it lasts for a few days, there has not been any death in like two years. I mean, people die from obesity."
The World Health Organization says measles is one of the leading causes of death among young children worldwide, although deaths are rare in Canada.
Turcotte said vaccines are the most effective way for people to protect themselves from infectious diseases such as measles.