Emily was two and a half years old. She was a beautiful blonde toddler with a shy and quiet nature. For most of her life we lived in Niger. I always thought (and I still do) that it was a wonderful place for our children to grow up. I look back on the nine years we spent in Niger as among the happiest years of my life. I vividly remember the afternoon we spent relaxing at the pool of the old French club. Emily was full of life -- jumping and splashing in the pool with all the others. We went to church on the Sunday evening in a nearby village the night before she died.
With winter cold and flu season upon us, it is a good time to nail down immune-boosting habits to ward off the ills of winter time germs. Emerging research now suggests that diet, exercise, age, psychological stress and herbal supplements may have an impact on the immune systems ability to fight off assaults from invading microorganisms.
It's been less than a year since the dreaded Ebola virus appeared on North American soil. In a matter of a few weeks, the virus went from being someone else's problem to a homeland threat. In the process, media headlines captured the attention of millions and struck fear into most of them. But Fearbola, as it was coined, was completely unnecessary. Last week, a report came out detailing exactly how the public responded to the Ebola crisis in the United States.
Today there is a six-year-old boy lying in a London, Ontario hospital fighting for his life. He is in critical condition with a vaccine-preventable illness, tetanus. Most North American's have never known a person who has suffered from this life-threatening disease, and it isn't on most people's radars. Rare, yes. But REAL.
Children (and adults) in Ontario should receive a routine schedule of vaccines against a long list of diseases. If your children aren't up to date on those vaccinations, I urge you to make a doctor's appointment now. Vaccination is one of the most important things you can do to protect the health of your family.
There are 136 cases of measles in Quebec. The disease is spreading fast considering that this outbreak was allegedly caused by a single returnee from a Disney vacation where the outbreak started. Like a run away freight train, measles will jump person to person and eventually make it here. Is my son who had a heart transplant and can't be vaccinated protected? I sure hope so. If you don't want to vaccinate, don't. But when measles is out there, an airborne illness that is so easily spread, please keep your child home. Don't make choices for my child too.
As someone who has had both leukemia and measles as an indirect result of chemotherapy, I'm a firm believer in Western medicine (though I do enjoy organic kale juice from time to time). Watching the vaccination furor from afar, I've been thinking about the connection between this debate and the two First Nations girls from Ontario who opted to have "natural" therapies to treat their Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia instead of proven chemotherapies.
In Canada, health care is a provincial responsibility. So, the provincial ministries of health draw up the vaccination schedules. You'll find slight variations in the different schedules. Some provinces may adopt new vaccines sooner than others. Or, a vaccine may target a different strain of a particular bug, reflecting what's circulating locally.
Every day when I see patients in my surgical clinic, some are offered a procedure to help them feel better. Whether it is a minor surgery like a tonsillectomy, or something larger scale such as tumor resection, I have a full discussion with the patient regarding the benefits and risks of doing "something." Each time I go over the common minor risks of an intervention and the exceedingly rare, but potentially very serious risks that can occur. I also review with them the risks of doing "nothing" - of what may happen if they don't have surgery. Vaccination is no different.
A few months ago I described three major epidemics around child health in Canada today, when there are in fact four. I failed to mention the equally important epidemic of misinformation, which has been described well here and while this is certainly applicable to the issue of vaccine hesitancy, it doesn't describe the entire picture.
I got a measles vaccine booster shot this week because I needed to be sure I couldn't bring harm to my community. And I mean that literally, as measles has now arrived in my Toronto neighbourhood. The proximity of measles also prompted me to start poking around the Toronto Star's interactive map of Immunization Exemptions in Toronto's Schools and what I found sadly didn't surprise me -- alternative schools host scary percentages of unvaccinated kids. Unfortunately, anyone in Ontario can get a vaccine exemption.
With each new outbreak, measles gains more ground for a permanent return. The virus becomes present year-round and causes seasonal infection like the cold and the flu. Every January to April dozens if not hundreds of people will become infected leaving public health officials with little option than to accept the future is a return to a dark past.
Last week in Berlin more than 15 countries pledged over US$7.5 billion to buy vaccines for the children of the world's poorest countries for the next five years. While this is great news for the millions of children living in the 73 countries supported by Gavi, there were other big winners: the pharmaceutical companies that benefit from the soaring vaccine prices they charge for vaccines worldwide.