Nova Scotia

How Nova Scotians can keep their measles vaccinations up to date

Dr. Joanne Langley says there are a number of ways to track down your immunization records, but if you can’t find them, there’s no harm in getting an extra shot just in case.

Recent measles scare prompts questions, concerns about how to access immunization records

This photo shows a measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. A person from New Brunswick recently visited a Halifax emergency room while contagious with the measles. (Eric Risberg/Associated Press)

A visit to a Halifax emergency room last month from a patient with measles has reignited discussions about the importance of vaccinations and ensuring they're up to date.

The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective way of preventing measles.

Dr. Joanne Langley told CBC's Maritime Noon that people who aren't vaccinated or are not immune to measles have a 90 per cent chance of catching the disease if they're exposed to the virus.

"It's a very contagious infection," said Langley, the head of pediatric infectious diseases at the IWK Health Centre and a vaccine researcher at the Canadian Center for Vaccinology at Dalhousie University.

On April 17, an individual from New Brunswick visited the Halifax Infirmary's emergency department on Robie Street for symptoms unrelated to measles. The Nova Scotia Health Authority confirmed last Friday the patient had measles.

Obtaining your records

Langley said there are a number of ways for Nova Scotians to check their vaccination records.

Generally, people getting a vaccine would get a little card to keep a paper record.

She suggested that people look through their own health records or check with their parents to see if they have it.

If they can't find the card, Langley said, people can check with their health-care providers, former health-care providers, or with the Nova Scotia Health Authority to see if they would have the records.

"Sometimes public health will have a record of your vaccines, certainly for those that are given in the public-health system," said Langley.

If the records can't be found, she said there's no harm in getting a shot just in case.

Symptoms of measles include a red blotchy rash on the face, which spreads down the body. (U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention)

Langley added that people can also download the CANImmunize app to track their vaccinations going forward.

"That's a privacy-protected application where you can find out what vaccines you need, and you can enter the dates of vaccines that you have or are getting in the future," she said. "And then ... it will actually remind you and it's time for you to get a vaccine.

"You're going to take charge of your own health and know yourself what vaccines you need to … keep our public-health system strong and prevent people from getting these often life-threatening infections."

Where to get your shots

People in Nova Scotia born after 1970 are eligible to receive two free doses of the MMR vaccine through the province's immunization program.

Langley said people can get their shots from their health-care provider or a nurse practitioner.

If they don't have a family doctor, she said some walk-in clinics can provide the vaccines, but she suggests people contact the Nova Scotia Health Authority to find out where they can go.

Those born between 1970 and the early 1990s may have only received one dose out of the two recommended MMR doses, so she said it's important that people born in that window of time ensure they have their booster shot.

Clinics short on MMR vaccines

Dr. Paul Young, a family physician based out of Bedford, said he's recently noticed a huge uptick in the amount of people getting the MMR vaccine.

"Most of the clinics have a shortage in the MMR vaccine right now just because the demands are outstripping supply," he said.

Young said he typically gets two or three MMR vaccine requests per shift, adding that clinics have been having difficulty keeping the vaccine in stock for the past three months.

Dr. Paul Young says he's seen a lot of people visiting walk-in clinics in the past few months asking for an MMR vaccine. (Carolyn Ray/CBC)

He said there are also a lot of people coming in to have their immunity tested.

Even though he's being kept busy by MMR vaccine requests, Young said the increase is a good thing.

"I think it highlights the fact that it's important to get vaccinated when you're supposed to get vaccinated, because that way the supply can be predicted based on what the demand is expected to be," he said. 

"Otherwise, we do run into shortages and [for] people that really do need the vaccines, they're not available."

With files from Maritime Noon and Carolyn Ray.

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