TORONTO — The B.C. government is considering a mandatory vaccination registration program similar to that in Ontario in the wake of an outbreak of measles in Vancouver, Health Minister Adrian Dix said Thursday.
Such a system would be aimed at boosting the proportion of residents in the province who are vaccinated against the highly contagious disease, he said.
"While there are some people who are expressing opposition to immunization, and others who can't be immunized for medical reasons, some people simply fall through the cracks of the system," Dix told reporters.
"We want to make it harder for that to happen. So action is coming."
Dix stopped short of saying a plan is in place or when it might be announced, but he noted that some of the groundwork has already been done: the idea of a vaccination records registry had been contemplated after an outbreak of 343 cases of measles in B.C.'s Fraser Valley region in 2014.
In the meantime, said Dix, "the message is for parents to immunize (their children)."
There have been nine confirmed cases of measles in Vancouver in recent weeks, including eight at two French-language schools in Vancouver, a cluster that began after an unvaccinated B.C. child contracted the disease during a family trip to Vietnam. The other case is unrelated.
Measles is nothing to sneeze at: complications include blindness, ear infections that can lead to deafness, pneumonia and encephalitis, or inflammation of the brain. The disease can also be fatal. In 2017, there were 110,000 measles deaths, most among children under age five, the World Health Organization says.
Infection with the virus begins with a high fever, cough, runny nose and red eyes, followed by a blotchy rash that spreads from the face and neck to the rest of the body. The virus is spread through air-borne droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Public health officials say the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is the most effective way to prevent infection.
However, some people — infants, those with certain underlying health conditions and patients undergoing chemotherapy — cannot be vaccinated and must rely on high vaccination levels within their community in order to be protected from infection by so-called "herd immunity."
Dix said Ontario's system makes it more difficult for those eligible for vaccination to miss getting their shots — and he wants to see B.C. with a similar model.
In Ontario, vaccination against measles, mumps and rubella is required by law for all children attending school, although parents can seek an exemption on religious or conscientious grounds. The Immunization of School Pupils Act requires parents or guardians to provide proof of vaccination before their child can attend school.
Earlier this week, 33 children and staff at the two measles-affected Vancouver schools were ordered to stay home until at least March 7 because they either hadn't been vaccinated or weren't able to provide proof of immunization.
Dix said provincial medical officers of health have the authority to exclude children and adults without vaccination proof from schools.
Meanwhile Thursday, a petition calling on the B.C. government to make it mandatory for children attending public schools to be vaccinated — except for medical-based reasons — reached almost 35,500 signatures on the website change.org.
Katie Clunn of Maple Ridge, B.C., who started the online petition, said vaccination is not only about protecting one's own children, but "others as well."
The mother of two young kids, with a third on the way, said if parents choose not to have their children vaccinated, they can home-school or possibly enrol them in a private school.
"I'm not forcing anybody to get vaccinated if they don't want to vaccinate," she said in an interview. "But I think we really need to step back and realize for the greater good that we need it and their own children do too."
— With files from Dirk Meissner in Victoria.
— Follow @SherylUbelacker on Twitter.
Sheryl Ubelacker, The Canadian Press
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