Vancouver Coastal Health responds to critics of measles vaccinations

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measles exposure / measles vaccinations
Red rashes on the palm of the hand / Shutterstock

A petition calling for mandatory measles vaccinations for children attending public school in B.C. continues to gain momentum, but a number of parents believe the vaccination may do more harm then good.

And while Health Minister Adrian Dix isn’t pushing legislation to make vaccinations mandatory, he encourages everyone to get their children immunized.

Vancouver Coastal Health reports that there have been eight confirmed cases of measles at Ecole Secondaire Jules-Verne and Ecole Rose-des-Vents. However, there have been nine confirmed cases in total. What’s more, the infection is highly contagious – the airborne viral infection spreads by coughing and sneezing – and even one case of measles is considered an outbreak.

With this in mind, a number of parents are concerned that children may have adverse reactions to the vaccine. While some worry that their children may get sick, others fear that they may cause irreparable damage, or worse, death.

Vancouver Is Awesome spoke to Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader, Vancouver Coastal Health, who explained the risks associated with the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine.

“While the vaccine may cause some side effects, they are rare,” she said. “And of those rare side effects the most common are a sore arm and a fever. On the other hand, measles causes a number of potentially much more serious complications, and may even lead to death. Also, measles is highly contagious – it lives in a room that an infected person has been in for up to two hours.”

Atkins notes that it is possible to have more extreme reactions to the vaccine, but that the complications associated with measles are far worse. Dr. Althea Hayden, Medical Health Officer, Vancouver Coastal Health, underscored this sentiment, noting that the chances of having an allergic reaction are rare.

“There’s no reason for the general public to be concerned about this. It’s extraordinarily rare to have an allergic reaction from a vaccine,” she remarks.

“Your body would have to have seen the component once before to have an allergic reaction. There are vaccine specialists and allergists who can help someone determine what the right decision is for them (ie to vaccinate).. Every vaccine provider is ready should a reaction occur.”

Dr. Hayden adds that a health care provider will always ask patients about previous reactions and medical history in order to discern whether it is safe. Further, she notes that it is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine. There is an extremely rare chance – less than 1 in a million – of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue, or lips.

With this in mind, there are a number of more serious reactions that may occur from the vaccine. These include:

  • seizures caused by fever (about 1 child in 3,000),
  • a temporary drop in the blood cells that help prevent bleeding (about 1 person in 30,000),
  • and encephalitis, an inflammation of the brain (about 1 person in 1 million).

Nevertheless, the possibility of getting encephalitis from measles is about 1 in 1,000. In other words, your risk of developing this potentially life-threatening complication are 1,000 times higher than they are from taking the vaccine.

Vancouver Coastal Health notes that two doses of measles vaccine are 99 per cent effective at preventing measles, and most cases now occur in those born after 1970 who have had no doses or only one dose of the vaccine.