As measles cases continue to spread worldwide, health experts are urging Canadians to check their vaccination records to ensure they are properly protected against the highly contagious virus.
Amid travel-rated cases in British Columbia, surging cases in several U.S. states including New York, New Jersey, California and Washington, and deadly outbreaks in Africa, doctors are concerned that some people who have been vaccinated against measlesmay be unaware that their immunity has worn off.
Although all children born after 1963 should be vaccinated against measles, Canadians born between 1970 and 1996 may have only received one dose of the vaccine that protects against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), leaving them under protected.
“If you were born before 1957, you got the measles as a child and you’re naturally immune. [Then] vaccines began to make their way into the scene,” CTV medical contributor Dr. Marla Shapiro said during an interview with CTV News Channel.
“First, we were only given one shot, which is part of the reason you didn’t get long lasting immunity. Secondly, if you got a shot before 1968 there’s a good chance that it wasn’t a live virus shot—and those also do not give long lasting immunity.”
Although measles is highly contagious, contractingthe virus can be prevented by the two-dose vaccine. But, in recent months, healthcare bodies including the World Health Organization have sounded the alarm over falling vaccination rates.
According to Health Canada, with two MMR shots, immunity reaches 97 per cent against measles, 88 per cent against mumps, and 97 per cent against rubella.
But stopping measles outbreaks largely relies on the publicbeing immunized, Dr. Shapiro says.
“If at least 90 or 95 per cent of the population gets immunized, you get herd immunity—everybody else protects everybody else. So when the numbers begin to fall, without 100 per cent individual immunity rates, you can see how you get breakthrough diseases,” she explained.
What vaccinations and booster shots are required for safe immunization?
The importance of staying up-to-date with vaccinations and booster shots doesn’t stop with measles—nor are they solely a childhood health issue.
According to a recent public health survery, while most adults believed they had received all the vaccines required for their age, less than 10 per cent were actually up to date on their vaccinations.
Booster shots typically begin in adolescence, with most 14 to 16-year-old’s requiring an update to their tetanus vaccination.
Diphtheria and Tetanus boosters are required every 10 years.
Adults age 50 to 65, immunocompetent people younger than 65 living in long-term care facilities, and people with specific medical conditions are also recommended to receive a pneumococcal vaccination.
Another important vaccination for adults is the Herpes Zoster, otherwise called the shingles vaccination, which is recommended after age 50.
If you’re travelling to a foreign country, it’s also important to check what vaccinations may be required for your destination.
If you don't know whether you were vaccinated as a child, or have lost your vaccination records, Dr. Shapiro recommends booking an appointment with your family doctor to check your vaccination records and complete a vaccine update.
Measles, mumps and rubella immunity can also be tested through a simple blood test.
Canadians also have access to an app called CANImmunize, which allows patients to easily track their vaccination records. The government-backed app is available on both iPhone and Android devices and even allows you to schedule notifications for booster shots.