BRUCE MacKINNON CARTOON: March 26, 2020
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It is through gritted teeth that I’m writing this one.
News that Nova Scotia has one of the lowest measles vaccination rates in Canada got me grinding. Only 71.7 per cent of seven-year-olds in this province are vaccinated. This compares to the national average, which is 85.7 per cent. Also compare this to our neighbours in New Brunswick where the vaccination rate is above 87 per cent. Even with this higher uptake, there was an outbreak of measles in that province earlier this year with 12 cases.
With less than three-quarters of Nova Scotia children immunized, this makes us vulnerable to serious infectious diseases that can kill people. In October, Nova Scotia’s Progressive Conservative leader, Tim Houston, introduced a bill requiring all students in Nova Scotia’s public school system to produce evidence of vaccination or a legitimate medical exemption. Given that the fall session of the House has ended, this bill will not pass right now.
And then this week we had a social media post and picture from MLA Steve Craig, who had a meeting with deposed chiropractor and anti-vaxxer activist Dena Churchill. "Very nice talking with Dr. Dena Churchill on vaccines, their effectiveness in prevention and people's right to choose or not," said the post from the MLA for Sackville-Cobequid.
He has since taken the post and picture down and apologized, explaining that he met with Churchill to inform himself of other views.
Um, no. There are plenty of ways to inform yourself of other views without advertising yourself on social media with a high-profile local anti-vaxxer. This woman has been kicked out of her profession and fined $100,000 for promoting anti-vaxxing on her blog. Surely Craig should understand that showing an image of himself smiling with someone who promotes dangerous ideas could be interpreted as a tacit endorsement.
Meanwhile, I hear and read doctor after doctor beseeching — practically begging — parents to have their children vaccinated. These busy medical professionals are spending precious time — at the expense of other things — coaxing parents who are “vaccination hesitant” to protect their child from a disease that was all but eradicated in 1998.
I don’t like that term “vaccination hesitancy.” I understand why they use it. They don’t want to alienate parents who are exercising their right to choose. But labelling the refusal to vaccinate as “hesitancy” softens the message that it is dangerous to refuse. Those parents are worried about side-effects of the vaccine. We need to focus on the side-effects of measles, one of which is death.
This is why I am in favour of using the big sticks. Ban unvaccinated children from public schools to protect those who have made the responsible decision to vaccinate. And investigate whether the problem is poverty and the challenges of reaching those families with the message. That requires serious policy initiatives. Yet we still have our government hemming and hawing over the whole idea of making vaccinations mandatory.
Health Minister Randy Delorey didn’t sound terribly enthusiastic when he was asked in Province House a couple of weeks ago. "The information that I have so far really highlights and stresses that there is mixed evidence as to the efficacy of mandatory vaccination."
When other children and adults are being put a risk, it’s time to stop worrying about alienating “the hesitant.” It’s time to protect “the responsible” who rely on doctors, evidence and science — not deposed chiropractors and comedians on the internet.