Vaccines are safe, effective health tools

With a vote on vaccines in New Brunswick’s rear-view mirror, we must now move past the politics of health care and get to the heart of the matter: our province needs an enhanced immunization program supported by improved public education and data management initiatives.

Vaccines are safe, effective, critical health tools that enable physicians and other health-care professionals to prevent diseases from spreading. Before the measles vaccine was introduced in Canada, we had an average of 53,000 cases of measles per year. Thanks to the measles vaccine, the average number of cases reported annually plummeted over time in Canada. Between 2011 and 2015, the average number of reported cases was just under 300. Many other diseases, including polio, mumps, and rubella, have been virtually eliminated in this country thanks to vaccines.

Education and Early Childhood Development Minister Dominic Cardy’s bill that would have removed parents’ right to refuse vaccinations for their children on religious or philosophical grounds was well intended. Physicians too want to ensure that everyone who is medically able receives necessary vaccines based on the New Brunswick Routine Immunization Schedule. We want to maintain herd immunity through increased rates of vaccination to protect everyone including vulnerable populations.

We must ensure our population understands the importance of vaccination through good education rooted in science. Despite decades of science showing that vaccines are safe and effective, vaccination rates have dropped so much in parts of the world that the World Health Organization has identified “vaccine hesitancy” as a significant threat to global health. This is especially troubling in a time when the world is struggling with a pandemic the likes of which have not been seen in generations. A vaccine is considered critical to mitigating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and when a safe, effective one is available, it is essential that those of us who can receive it do so.

New Brunswick also needs exceptional data management to ensure we have an accurate picture of current vaccination rates and trends in our province. Thankfully, steps are underway to improve how we gather and maintain this data. The provincial government announced in early 2019 a new electronic health record system to streamline existing paper records and other electronic records into one system that will improve the management of vaccines, immunizations, and potential disease outbreaks.

This is a positive step forward that will enable physicians and other health professionals to better understand the overall health of the population of New Brunswick and more effectively prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

I urge all New Brunswickers to ensure that their vaccines and those that their children should receive are up to date. You can check your immunization record through your physician or other health-care provider or through your local Public Health clinic.

Dr. Chris Goodyear, FRCSC, is a general surgeon in Fredericton and the president of the New Brunswick Medical Society.