New Brunswick

Measles vaccination rates for N.B. children should be higher, says Moncton specialist

A Moncton specialist says measles vaccination rates for New Brunswick children should be higher. While the number is 87 per cent for children entering kindergarten, Dr. Gabriel Girouard believes it is too low.

'It creates a wall to make sure the virus can't access the population and spread'

Dr. Gabriel Girouard is a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist at the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre. He says people's ambivalence towards childhood vaccinations needs to stop. (Tori Weldon/CBC)

A Moncton specialist says measles vaccination rates for New Brunswick children should be higher.

According to the Department of Health, 87 per cent of children entering kindergarten have their measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.

While that figure represents a large majority, Dr. Gabriel Girouard of the Dr. Georges-L.-Dumont University Hospital Centre said more children should be vaccinated.

Girouard, a microbiologist and infectious disease specialist, said: "When we're below 90 per cent that's low, and its not sufficient to make sure that these viruses won't reappear."

The province recommends children are immunized at 12 months and again six months later.

The service is free, but Girouard said too many parents are not taking advantage of the opportunity.

"What we're seeing now is a lot of adults that are ambivalent to give the vaccines to children because what we see on social media.

"I don't think it's a wide-spread Canadian problem, but we see pockets of people for religious or cultural reasons refusing all vaccines."

New Brunswick's immunization schedule is set by the chief medical officer. Parents need to prove their children are immunized when they begin school. A medical exemption can be obtained with the signature of a medical professional and parents can exempt their kids by filling out a form. (Chuck Stoody/Canadian Press)

Measles outbreaks in Vancouver, Washington State, and the Philippines are putting vaccination rates under a microscope.

Girouard said protecting people in this province is as easy as getting vaccinated.

"In that childhood illness category it's not an individual choice or issue, it's a collective immunity that we want to create to protect everybody. All of our society is based on this."

The province asks for proof of vaccination when children enrol in school, but there are ways to opt out.

Exemptions available

In New Brunswick, parents can receive a medical exemption for their children with approval of a medical professional. Parents can also sign an exemption for their children.

According to Girouard, it's not mandatory for parents in any province to vaccinate their children, but having to fill out a form is a good method to get parents thinking.

"It's a good process ... maybe we could imagine that some parents will change their idea about vaccination, maybe reconsider." 

Measles is a highly contagious disease. Girouard called it "the most transmissible viral agent known to man."

That is why it is important to increase vaccination rates.

"It creates a wall to make sure the virus can't access the population and spread," he said.

A recent outbreak of whooping cough, a respiratory infection also known as pertussis, was declared at Moncton High School earlier this month, shining a spotlight on immunization numbers.

Statistics from the Department of Health show up to 30 per cent of the Moncton High School population didn't receive the booster shot for pertussis.

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