On Tuesday, February 19, nine confirmed cases of measles were reported in Vancouver, British Columbia. Most of these cases have been in two French immersion schools, where an unvaccinated student brought the disease back from a family vacation to Vietnam. There have been no deaths or serious complications of the infection, but it has lit a fire under professionals and citizens interested in public health.
Measles, a serious childhood illness which can (even in mild afflictions) have life-long consequences, is one of the diseases modern medicine (specifically, vaccinations) has all but wiped out. Before the vaccine became widely available in 1963, an estimated 75 percent of all children caught the disease before the age of 15, with as many as 50,000 hospitalizations and 500 deaths a year. While most survived with little more than scarring, a significant percentage suffered permanent damage to their brain or heart. And perhaps worst, everyone infected lived for several years afterwards with an increased susceptibility to other diseases, a side-effect of measles that we are only now beginning to understand called “immune amnesia.”
Due to widespread vaccination, measles was declared eliminated in Canada in 1998 and in the U.S. in 2000. But today, due to the so-called anti-vax “movement,” we’re seeing epidemics in a number of major cities, including Vancouver. While the outbreak at Ecole Secondaire Jules-Verne and Ecole Rose-Des-Vents originated outside the country, it could not have happened without the vector of an unvaccinated child.
In the wake of this, both schools have seen their documented vaccine compliance shoot up from 70 percent to 95 percent, and many students are advocating for vaccination to be mandatory without exemption, regardless of the philosophies of their parents.
The parent who caused this outbreak by not vaccinating his child has defended his choice in public, which is part of why Vancouver is currently seeing growing protests against allowing philosophical exemptions to vaccines in school children. Another, quieter protest is also happening in doctor’s offices around the city, where teenagers old enough to make their own medical decisions are getting vaccinated against the wishes of their anti-vax parents.