This week is Immunization Awareness Week in Canada, which intends to highlight the importance of protecting yourself from vaccine-preventable diseases.
David Freeman, Communications Consultant for the Saskatchewan Health Authority, said that there has been a decrease in immunizations over the last several years.
“What has happened in the last few years, with all the attention that has gone to COVID and all the things that transpired there, like being in lockdowns, we've noted a slowdown in our immunizations, especially childhood immunizations but even adult immunizations,” he elaborated. “This has resulted in much lower rates of immunization of our population and as you may be aware, the higher the rate of immunization of our population, the better protection we have.”
Freeman added that herd immunity plays a significant role in the way viruses or diseases can spread.
When the majority of individuals are protected, the potential for the disease to spread decreases, however, when immunization rates are low, it becomes easier for diseases to spread.
“In southeast Alberta, right next to us, they have an outbreak of whooping cough or pertussis that is affecting mostly kids between the ages of one and nine who are not immunized, or not up to date with the immunizations,” he added.
He noted that last week, the SHA was notified of increasing cases of whooping cough in children that are not up to date with their vaccinations and the World Health Organization recently acknowledged that the decrease in immunizations is a global phenomenon.
“There's been a tremendous slowdown, which means that there's higher potential and they're already seeing more and more cases of vaccine-preventable diseases coming up,” he continued. “Measles cases are increasing, whooping cough is increasing, and a number of other vaccine-preventable diseases.
“So, the whole aim is really let's get back on track, let's protect our populations and avoid these diseases, which can be pretty nasty from coming back into our communities. These diseases that are vaccine preventable.”
Freeman also noted that multiple factors contributed to the decrease in immunizations, such as limited movement and misinformation.
“We've used [these vaccines] for a long time, they keep on getting improved.,” he stated. “They are safe and certainly do a lot in protecting our populations. Part of the danger you face when you have such good immunization is people forget what the actual impact of these diseases are. Many people don't know what whooping cough is like. It's not like your everyday common cold, it's not a five-day event. Whooping cough goes on for weeks and it is agonizing for children and it is agonizing for parents because it's 24 hours of extreme coughing, extreme distress, and extreme fatigue.
“We have forgotten the actual impact of these diseases and sometimes we need a reminder that we need to keep that protection otherwise we're going to see pretty nasty illnesses out there.”