04/03/2014 05:11 EDT | Updated 06/03/2014 05:59 EDT

Measles In Alberta: Parents Should Get Kids Vaccinated

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EDMONTON - Alberta's health minister says parents should have their children vaccinated against measles to protect them and other youngsters from the contagious illness.

Fred Horne says it's important for the government to raise awareness, but it is also an issue of social responsibility.

"Education and awareness play an important role around immunization," Horne said Thursday in a conference call from Toronto.

"But in the end parents must make the conscious decision to take their child and to have them vaccinated to protect their child, but also to protect other children in the family and the community."

Health officials reported a case of measles in Edmonton on Thursday, the ninth in the province this year. The others include five cases in Calgary and three in central Alberta.

Last fall, there were 42 cases in the Lethbridge area. Officials believe the outbreak originated from one unvaccinated student.

The Alberta Health website shows measles vaccination rates in 2012 were as low as 42 per cent in the Wabasca region. The provincial average was 84 per cent.

The provincial vaccination target is 98 per cent.

The Public Health Agency of Canada issued a notice Friday warning of a higher than usual number of measles cases this year . The illness has been reported in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario.

B.C. has reported 320 confirmed cases in recent weeks, mostly in the Fraser Valley.

Manitoba reported two new cases Thursday to bring the province's total this year to four.

Dr. Christopher Sikora, an Alberta medical officer of health, said some people incorrectly believe that vaccines are linked to autism. Other people don't have their children vaccinated for religious reasons.

It's unacceptable for children to contract pneumonia or die from measles when there is a free vaccine available, he said.

"It is a safe vaccine. It is effective at what it has to do. It helps keep our own children safe. It helps keep other children safe."

Horne said there is growing concern among health ministers about immunization rates for childhood diseases. He said it appears the numbers are getting worse instead of getting better.

Horne suggested the problem may be some parents not having accurate information.

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