Measles vaccination rates in GTA children are lower than in the rest of Ontario. Because?

Are children in the Toronto area at higher risk of contracting measles than the rest of Ontario?

It’s a question that could be answered, at least in part, with a report released by Public Health Ontario (PHO) showing mostly declining vaccination rates against this highly contagious disease among children, especially in the Greater Toronto Area.

The report is from July, but helps add context to the current measles situation in Ontario. As of March 13, eight cases have been confirmed so far in 2024, one more than the seven reported throughout 2023, and four of those cases were in unvaccinated children. Half of those cases were reported in the GTA and Hamilton and all but two involved recent travel.

Since March 13, at least one additional case has been confirmed in Toronto, and the city’s public health agency warned of possible exposure at a mother and baby program at the centre.

Immunization data from the province’s 34 public health units is included in the report and shows coverage rates for children aged seven and 17 between the 2019 and 2022 school years.

While the older cohort has consistent immunization rates above or close to 90 percent across the board and over the years, vaccination coverage has decreased for the younger group since 2019, specifically in health units public located in the GTA.

For example, in Toronto, the percentage of seven-year-olds fully vaccinated against measles fell from 80.2 per cent in the 2019-2020 school year to 38.9 per cent in the 2021-2022 school year. The situation appears to be worse in Peel Region, where rates fell from 77.7 to 37.2 per cent in the same period.

In fact, all GTA cities have seen a dramatic drop in measles vaccination rates since 2019, led by York Region at 31.9 per cent.

“We need to vaccinate at least 70 to 80 percent of children against this disease to keep the numbers in check. As soon as vaccination rate percentages fall below that figure, we risk a resurgence of these diseases, which had been virtually eradicated in Canada in recent decades,” said Dr. Dina Kulik, pediatrician and founder of Kidcrew. . Medical, she told CTV News Toronto in an interview.

WHY THE DECREASE IN VACCINE COVERAGE, PARTICULARLY IN THE GTA?

COVID-19 is at least partly to blame for reduced immunization coverage, according to PAHO, which says it caused “significant disruptions” to the delivery of routine vaccines.

The report notes that because primary care offices were limited to virtual visits at the height of the pandemic, the “postponement of non-essential medical treatments,” such as vaccines, followed.

Beyond that, Kulik said some patients in Ontario have had trouble accessing their family doctor in recent years, due in part to staff shortages across the province. more than half a million people Toronto does not have a family doctor, according to recent figures released by the Ontario Medical Association.

Additionally, vaccine hesitancy following the global rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine remains a factor. “In general, measles is a fairly benign disease for most people. However, if enough people get it, like COVID, like the flu, like other diseases, there are risks and some children get very sick, and some children can die from measles,” he said.

Measles vaccination rates

What is the reason for the drop in vaccine coverage, particularly in the GTA?

COVID-19 is at least partly to blame for reduced immunization coverage, according to PAHO, which says it caused “significant disruptions” to the delivery of routine vaccines.

The report notes that because primary care offices were limited to virtual visits at the height of the pandemic, the “postponement of non-essential medical treatments,” such as vaccines, followed.

Beyond that, Kulik said some patients in Ontario have had trouble accessing their family doctor in recent years, due in part to staff shortages across the province. more than half a million people Toronto does not have a family doctor, according to recent figures released by the Ontario Medical Association.

Additionally, vaccine hesitancy following the global rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine remains a factor.

Child vaccinated against COVID-19

“I think when a new vaccine comes out, like the COVID vaccine, there are a lot of questions about how vaccines are made, how they are tested, and the short-term and long-term side effects,” Kulik said.

“I think it’s important to have these conversations, I appreciate these conversations with my patients, because I want them to be informed about why they are getting vaccinated and what the potential risks are, but also the benefits.”

PAHO has recognized that there is a “increase in measles activity worldwide” and last week Health Minister Sylvia Jones said the province has increased its vaccine reserve.

Late last year, the World Health Organization called the rise in measles outbreaks and deaths around the world “staggering,” but also “not unexpected”due to declining vaccination rates over the years.

So what should I do?

Health officials have been urging the public to check your vaccination records to make sure they are up to date on their measles vaccinations, especially before traveling.

If you’re unsure, Kulik recommends making an appointment with your doctor to review which vaccines you or your children may be missing.

“I think it’s definitely a priority to make sure that children visit their primary care provider, family doctor or pediatrician to review what vaccines may be needed, what vaccines their children are missing and get them up to date, because we know that we need a “A couple of weeks after a vaccine to really achieve good immunity.”

If you contract measles, Toronto Public Health has provided the following guidance, including:

  • Seek medical attention if symptoms arise, especially after travel or exposure to a person infected with measles.

  • Call ahead to clinics for precautionary measures and testing.

  • Not attending work or school.

  • Watch for symptoms even if you are vaccinated against measles

  • Follow medical advice immediately for proper care and containment.


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