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Measles cases ‘just a matter of time’ in Alberta, warn doctors pushing for provincial action

Alberta vaccine experts are warning it’s just a matter of time before measles cases show up in the province, as a surge in cases continues in Europe.

Measles is on the rise around the world and the World Health Organization is warning even countries that have achieved measles elimination status are at risk of outbreaks.

“Globally, thousands of kids are dying of measles all related to the drop in (vaccinations) during the pandemic,” said Shannon MacDonald, an associate professor in the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta.

“I literally think we’re that close to an outbreak situation if we don’t get our coverage rates up.”

MacDonald says the only reason Canada has been untouched thus far is because cases haven’t been introduced.

She helped conduct a study in 2021 that showed that routine immunization programs for students fell behind during the pandemic.

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MacDonald is warning parents to make sure their children didn’t fall through the cracks when schools and clinics were closed and is urging the province to do more to get the word out.

“The public health nurses are doing whatever they can, with the resources they have. The province dedicated some additional resources to provide some extra capacity. I don’t know that that funding is necessarily sufficient to get the catch-up we need.  I do think more public information campaigns would be helpful. Even just to say to parents ‘call 811’ and ask if your child’s vaccination record is up-to-date,” MacDonald said.

Mike Bosch was at a north Calgary public health clinic on Friday getting his 18-month-old daughter vaccinated. At that age, Alberta Health Services recommends the following:

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“I know that vaccination is one of the biggest things you can do to improve health outcomes,” Bosch said. “It’s super important to keep us healthy and it’s quick and it’s easy.

“It was just a half an hour in and out and one little tear and she’s back to her usual self.”

“Measles is such a contagious disease,” said Dr Cora Constantinescu, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist with the Vaccine Hesitancy Clinic at Alberta Children’s Hospital.

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“It’s airborne. It’s one of the most contagious ones.”

She is encouraging parents to ensure their child gets two doses of a measles vaccine — and ensure their own immunizations are updated.

“Make sure you are too, because some parents are just in that age group where they may not have had a second dose,” Constantinescu said.

“Make sure your family is protected because I do believe it’s just a matter of time before this disease makes its way to Canada.”

According to the latest figures for 2022, the uptake on kids in Alberta getting their first MMR by age two was 82 per cent — but there was a big difference between rural and urban rates.

It’s just 46 per cent part of the south zone and 65 per cent in northeast Alberta, which is below vaccination levels that need to be in mid-90s to slow spread in the community.

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Constantinescu said it’s not just measles — she’s warning about whooping cough too.

Already this year, 60 cases of pertussis have already been reported in the province, according to Alberta Health.

“We are still in the middle of a pertussis outbreak in Alberta. Think hard about who in your family is vulnerable. Do you have a little baby? That’s a big deal when it comes to whooping cough, in terms of mortality and severity of disease.

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“We need to protect that baby and the best way is getting everybody vaccinated and making sure pregnant women get vaccinated.”

The World Health Organization says at 95 per cent of children need to be vaccinated with two doses against measles in all communities to prevent the spread of the highly-contagious disease.

A statement from Alberta Health said the province and Alberta Health Services have taken actions to prevent a measles outbreak “using enhanced web content and the expansion of the school immunization program to catch-up students that were delayed for immunizations throughout COVID-19 when many students were learning at home.”

AHS reviews individual student immunization records in Grade 1, 6 and 9. Immunization is offered to all children who are not up to date.

“We will continue to work with vaccine hesitant populations. It is important that individuals are supported in their individual choice, and that their choice is informed by credible information about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines,” the province said in a statement.

There are no immunization requirements for school entry in Alberta.

Click to play video: 'Measles cases on the rise in parts of Europe and Central Asia: WHO'

Measles cases on the rise in parts of Europe and Central Asia: WHO

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