British Columbia

Fraser Health region vaccination rates fall short of ideal, says health authority

Burnaby, White Rock, Maple Ridge and Agassiz have immunization rates of less than 60 per cent.

Overall rate of immunization for Fraser Health Region is 62%

Burnaby, White Rock, Maple Ridge and Agassiz have immunization rates of less than 60 per cent. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

The number of seven-year-old children immunized in the Fraser Health region falls below the minimum level to prevent infectious diseases from spreading.

As many as one-third of children may not be fully vaccinated and although there are some caveats, Dr. Victoria Lee, chief medical health officer for the area, said the numbers are a concern.

Health officials aim for something called herd immunity — vaccination rates of 80 to 95 per cent, which makes it more difficult for infectious diseases to spread. In the Fraser Health region, the overall rate is about 62 per cent, Lee said.

Immunization levels for seven year olds in 2013-14 in Burnaby were 52.2 per cent, 52.6 per cent in White Rock, 58 per cent in Agassiz and 59.5 per cent in Maple Ridge, according to data provided by Fraser Health.   

Source: Fraser Health

"Of course we're concerned," Lee said. "Immunization is the cornerstone of public health practice and one of the most effective health measures for protecting children and adults against vaccine-preventable diseases."

However, in some cases, the numbers don't reflect immunization rates because children may have moved, or immunizations from various providers may not have been reported, Lee said.

'It is scary'

In some communities there's work to be done to overcome cultural, philosophical, and or religious beliefs that don't encourage vaccinations, and Lee said the health authority is working to overcome those barriers.

"We have some early and positive indications that our coverage rates are actually improving," Lee said, adding that immunization is a shared responsibility with parents.

An Asian woman stands in front of a Fraser Health sign. She has just below-shoulder length black hair and wears a blazer
Dr. Victoria Lee, the chief medical health officer for Fraser Health, said the authority is working to improve immunization levels. (CBC)

Some parents are concerned, especially since children will be heading back to school in less than two weeks.

"It is scary," said Geeta Raval, a mother of two, who also works in a hospital.

"We do the best we can to keep our kids healthy and hope other parents do the same," she said, adding that her children have all their immunizations up to date.

Theresa Derbyshire, another mother at the park, said she wasn't surprised that that not all children are fully immunized.

"I think it slips people's minds," she said. "It's not easy to get them done if you're a working parent."

She said it can be difficult for some parents to get to the doctor's office or a clinic. As there haven't been outbreaks in North Delta, she says getting her children vaccinated is something that she's put off.

Dr. Michael Rieder with the Canadian Paediatric Society agreed it can be a challenge for some families to get their children vaccinated. 

"There's also some parents who would get their kids vaccinated, but there's a barrier in the way," he said. "Whether it's systematic, or whether they can't get to the doctor. Vaccines aren't available in their communities, etc. etc."

However, Rieder said anything short of herd immunity is unacceptable.

With files from Farrah Merali, Tina Lovgreen and Tamara Baluja