Interior Health encourages the public to discuss vaccinations with their doctors.

Education is key to understanding vaccinations

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate...that is the question.

School has been in full swing for a month now and parents will soon be faced with the question of whether or not to vaccinate their children.

Dr. Trevor Corneil, the chief medical health officer for Interior Health (IH), said when it comes to vaccination and vaccination uptake, IH would ideally like to see the majority of children in a community get vaccinated.

“We like to see preferably 85-90 per cent coverage in a community to keep these, what can be quite severe, diseases that we used to see quite often from occurring.”

Some diseases that haven’t been seen much in decades have reappeared in society because of misinformation about vaccinations.

Corneil said while the overall goal is for nearly full coverage in a community, on an individual level, the issue of vaccinations is more complicated.

“Everyone comes with their own knowledge, beliefs and values, so our role as medical health officers and health care providers is to provide the knowledge and the facts around vaccines and I think that’s important,” he said, adding the values and beliefs of everyone need to be acknowledged as well.

“Once those issues are brought into a conversation, one can usually come to a conclusion that’s satisfactory not only to the health care provider, but also to the parent. In some cases, it may be that the child doesn’t get vaccinated, but at least all of those aspects are being considered.”

There have been misconceptions in the media over the past couple of years that lead people to take an anti-vaccination approach. One notable case is when actress Jenny McCarthy said there was a link between a common childhood vaccine and autism.

“In some cases, some people think the MMR vaccine [which treats mumps, measles and rubella, or German measles] causes autism, which has shown to be false; that’s not the truth,” Corneil said.

It’s often about understanding where someone’s values and belief systems stem from to find out why one might hold on to a belief even after its been disproven, which can facilitate a change in thinking, he said.

Belief systems, while easy to influence on the one hand, can be hard to change once a person’s mind is set, he said, adding it’s important for health officials and those with differences of opinion to have ”an open and honest” discussion.

“If at the end of the discussion you find yourself having some core differences in values, that’s absolutely reasonable and appropriate but it needs to have all of the noise stripped away and actually be a real discussion.”

Back 20 years ago, there wasn’t a big anti-vaccination movement, he said.

“There wasn’t a large pushback because people knew people were getting fixed. They saw their kids go into hospitals with epiglottitis; they saw their children going into hospital with pneumonia; they saw kids dying from varicella meningitis or chicken pox meningitis,” he said. “This type of thing was seen. It was very obvious to them that vaccines were the great solution to stopping these things from happening. I think the flip side to something that works is you stop seeing bad things happen.”

Corneil said some of the diseases he’s seeing on the rise haven’t been around for a couple of decades, including mumps and pertussis (whooping cough).

“We’re seeing whooping cough come back; we’re seeing some mumps cases; we are starting to see children with epiglottitis and abscess in the throat, and some pneumonias we’re seeing come back,” he said. “Those are the main ones.”

There are myths around the safety of shots that carry a number of vaccines, like the MMR vaccine – one Corneil said should be given to every child, and the sooner they receive the vaccine, the better.

“Blended vaccines aren’t bad. There is no limit on the number of vaccines that you can give at a time. You’re system is very primed to having exposure to different antigens and different, usually, proteins that are replicated from different viruses and bacteria,” he said. “It comes down to how many needles you can put into a kid at once, which is why you get these vaccines that contain four, five or six [vaccines].”

As far as flu shots go, Corneil said they are important.

“Kids tend to carry it and feel really crummy and they miss school, it’s not the same as it is in an elderly person or in a person with a weaken immune system,” he said. “So we do encourage influenza shots annually for those groups of people so they don’t get sick either.”

Corneil said anyone with questions about vaccines should read the information provided on the Immunizebc.ca website and have a conversation with their health care provider.

“There’s no forcing of anything just have a discussion,” he said, adding a conversation can’t hurt.

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