What makes Canada’s position unique?
In the United States, a new report published Monday by Pew Research Center found that the public is divided on the relative importance of vaccinations. But a PEW analysis of Canadian data shows that Canadians overall are generally in favor of immunization.
The chart below shows how the percent of Canadians who say they have vaccinated their children has changed over time. For instance, in 1998, 65 percent of Canadian children were fully vaccinated. As of 2016, only 29 percent of Canadian children were fully vaccinated.
A fast-changing public health situation
When vaccines first went into vogue, they had great social benefits for the Canadian public. Vaccines helped keep children’s diseases from spreading widely, and they saved lives and lower health care costs. Vaccines are now only one tool in the arsenal of public health programs, but one that Canada pioneered.
But at the same time, “there were other problems,” says Dr. Kevin MacDonald, associate professor in the department of pediatrics at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. “There were other social problems emerging. It got attention here in Canada and abroad … particularly in the 1980s, and because we made a big push, and big money in advocating for vaccines, we’ve come a long way. But there’s still a long way to go.”
A lack of promotion isn’t the only challenge to getting young children to have their shots. Antibiotics and certain fruits and vegetables are often recommended as alternatives to vaccinations. An incremental decline in vaccines might also be a factor, MacDonald says. Not having a good understanding of what has to be covered by the vaccine regime can be a deterrent.
“It’s an ongoing problem,” MacDonald says.
So, the question isn’t whether Canadians want their children to be vaccinated. They do. “They want what’s best for their children,” MacDonald says. It’s whether they have a clear understanding of the duties and responsibilities that come with vaccination. Canadians need to know that not all diseases are vaccine-preventable, but that it is important for them to be fully immunized, he says.
The vaccine issue has also brought new attention to Ottawa’s high rate of childhood mortality. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, Canada ranked 16th among 18 industrialized countries in 2015 on infant mortality — 30 per 1,000 live births. By comparison, the United States ranked 41st, with 29 per 1,000 live births. According to the World Health Organization, the increase in childhood mortality is partly due to a decline in immunization rates.
Overall, researchers have found that in countries that were highly dependent on vaccination rates of children, there was a lower overall mortality rate. But overall, “the case can be made that levels of vaccine vaccination in Canada … are equal to or higher than those of the industrialized world,” according to the report.
Public-health research centers are advocating on the agenda
This month, Public Health Agency of Canada released a statement supporting physician-led vaccination efforts and early intervention approaches that support “a lifelong lifelong supply of vaccines.” It also said it is considering a special advisory committee to assess information about vaccine issues, develop evidence-based and public-health policies and recommendations and provide independent advice to the minister of health.
The advocacy is likely to ramp up next week when Canadian health-care providers will have another chance to comment on draft public policy recommendations on immunization.