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Written by Shane Woodford

Taking a stand on immunization

30/06/2015 9:40:28 AM | 0 comments |
Parents who think their decision not to vaccinate their kids is okay with the rest of us, take note. It’s not.

Six months ago, my world changed when I held my son, Henrik, for the first time. Readers who are parents know what I mean.  

Not only did my personal world change, but his birth also changed my world view.  
 
Here’s what I mean.  
 
Covering a news story as it unfolds is an adrenaline-producing experience for me. Tracking down the facts, following up leads and reporting an ongoing story accurately – all on the tight deadline CKNW News imposes – can be a tough way to earn a living. I love the work and most often I can cover a story with the objectivity the public expects of a news reporter.  
 
But now that I have a son, I find objectivity more challenging when I cover certain stories. 
 
Take the recent measles outbreak caused by unvaccinated Burnaby students who returned to Vancouver aboard Air China following a trip to Beijing. I’ve covered similar stories in the past and just took it for granted that that there was no right or wrong in such a situation. I assumed it was a parent’s right to vaccinate their child – or not.  
 
Now that I’m a dad, I have a different perspective. 
 
Now it’s my child who’s out there in the world exposed to others who may not take careful steps to prevent harmful diseases from spreading.  
 
This issue of parents and their decision about vaccinating their kids is complicated. Some see it as a right to decide either way based on a religious belief or some ill-informed opinion about vaccine safety. Others just fail to ensure their kids’ vaccinations are up to date.  
 
I don’t know what happened in the Burnaby students’ case. But I can’t help but ask, ‘Where is those parents’ accountability to society?’  
 
Surely school protocol requires parents to verify their child’s immunization records before students depart on an overseas field trip? Did these parents report that their children were protected by vaccination? If so, clearly they were not diligent at ensuring all the vaccinations were up to date. Did they consciously choose the no-vaccination route? Or did they just think it didn’t matter? 
 
Well, it does matter. As the disease spiraled through the community, clearly others were being affected. 
 
As news coverage of this situation mounted, I began to sense that the laissez-faire attitude society has apparently had to vaccinations was starting to shift. Parents were starting to realize that when some parents don’t immunize their kids, they’re putting not only their own kids at risk, but others’ as well. 
 
We live in a so-called ‘information age’ and sometimes we suffer from information overload. In the news business, we aim to get out information based on truth. Let people make their own informed choices. But the web facilitates the spread of crazy ideas that have no merit. What happens to ‘informed choice’ when these fear mongers question vaccine safety, despite all evidence to the contrary, and plant the seeds of doubt in parents worried about their children? There’s nothing to stop them from spreading this nonsense.  I find that troubling.  
 
Then you have pockets of parents and communities here in BC who don’t immunize their kids for religious reasons. Should that be acceptable? 
 
In other cases, basic inattention is the reason shots aren’t up to date. I understand that parents are busy with life and that sometimes their child’s immunizations fall behind. But outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough are occurring more often. I had whooping cough as a child. My earliest memory is of being in an oxygen tent and seeing my parents walk in with balloons to celebrate my second birthday. 
 
Whooping cough and measles are diseases we’ve basically had under control for decades. All it takes is for one infectious case to spread and we’re facing an outbreak among people whose vaccinations either never occurred in the first place or are not up to date.  
 
As a dad now, I hope these recent outbreaks will motivate other parents who don’t think they need to vaccinate their kids to think twice and protect their children. And mine. 
 
Thankfully, most parents do their part to be informed by the evidence and do immunize their kids. In BC around two-thirds of children are immunized. The higher that number, the more we boost something called ‘herd immunity’. What’s that? It describes a situation in which a large portion of the population becomes immune to an infection, which in turn helps to protect those who aren’t immune. 
 
Herd immunity is a good thing and we need to strive for more. I’ve covered heart-wrenching stories and interviewed parents whose child is battling an awful health issue. Then I learn that their child can’t be immunized due to the medical condition. To know their child is at risk and to not be able to do anything to protect them, outside of relying on society to take measures, requires a good deal of faith in humankind. Increasing the vaccination rate in the rest of the population would increase the level of herd immunity, providing some level of protection for these kids with medical conditions.  
 
Canada is so close to making terrible diseases like whooping cough and measles extinct, in comparison with under-vaccinated populations in developing countries where, incidentally, parents would clamour for a free vaccine, if it were available. I appreciate the people who work in the Public Health field who are working hard to limit the damage by helping to prevent and fight the spread of these diseases. 
 
Henrik has already received his two scheduled rounds of vaccinations, and we’ll always keep his shots up to date. Rest assured, this parent is doing his part and taking the issue of immunization seriously. Count this family in when the ‘herd’ count is done. 
 
Shane Woodford is a news reporter with News Talk 980 CKNW in Vancouver

Fraser Health’s point of view 

Fraser Health believes vaccines are safe and that they protect you from serious diseases. When you are immunized you are protecting yourself, those you care about and others who are vulnerable and cannot immunize for medical reasons. 
 
Here are some resources to help you protect yourself and your family
This article was published in the Healthier You magazine: Summer 2015.  Read the full magazine online.

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