Nova Scotia

Why education, not legislation, is the key to getting people vaccinated

A decorated Nova Scotia pediatrician who is a fierce advocate for vaccinations says Nova Scotia shouldn't follow New Brunswick's lead on making vaccinations mandatory.

Dr. Noni MacDonald says mandatory vaccination is too simple a solution 'to a complex problem'

Dr. Noni MacDonald received the Order of Nova Scotia on Tuesday. She's a well-known pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases and teaches at Dalhousie University. (Jean Laroche/CBC)

A decorated Nova Scotia pediatrician who is a fierce advocate for vaccinations says Nova Scotia shouldn't follow New Brunswick's lead on making vaccinations mandatory.

"That is what I would call a simple solution to a complex problem," said Dr. Noni MacDonald.

She called immunizations one of the most important public-health interventions in the history of humankind and said it "has saved more lives than all the other antibiotics, cancer surgery, heart surgery, all of that. This has saved more lives than any of those other things, even all put together."

On Tuesday, MacDonald was one of five people awarded the Order of Nova Scotia.

She used Australia as an example why vaccination shouldn't be mandatory. She said the overall immunization rate there only increased by 1.8 per cent, but it came with "tragic" consequences.

"Lower-income families were the ones that were most punished by this, the ones who had the least resources to ensure that their kids were getting immunized," said MacDonald.

In Nova Scotia, not all vaccinations are free.

A drain on staffing

MacDonald said enforcing any vaccination law or policy would drain staffing resources.

"If you're going to enforce it, that takes people," she said. "Who's going to do that? Is it our public-health nurses? What are they not going to do if they do this? Or are you going to give them more money for public health?"

Instead of punitive measures, MacDonald is calling on all Nova Scotians who get their shots to lobby others to follow suit. She said that's the best way to drown out the message being amplified by "vaccine deniers."

MacDonald said the more people in the health-care sector and the general public stand up to say vaccination is important, it will help drown out voices from the anti-vaccination crowd.

"You're never going to convince one of these vocal vaccine deniers because often they've got secondary gain, they want to sell you something else instead of the vaccine," she said.

"A lot of people are not vaccine deniers, they're just anxious about getting immunized."

More research needed

MacDonald said the province should give the Health Department money to research why people aren't getting vaccinations, and then educate them on why they should.

She had a simple message for why people should get vaccinated.

 "If you get measles encephalitis and then brain damage, we can't undo that," said MacDonald. "If you get bad influenza and then your stroke afterwards, which is common, I can't fix that. I could have prevented that by you having your flu vaccine."

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