Canadian health authorities are unlikely to halt routine immunizations against several diseases, such as whooping cough and measles, amid one of the worst outbreaks of diseases the country has seen in decades, a leading official said Friday.
Dr. Heather Simpson, Toronto’s chief medical officer of health, said the outbreak, which is the largest of multiple disease cases in recent years, had left the public with a heightened sense of safety and understanding of the connection between vaccinations and preventing diseases.
“When you look at the three-day incubation period and the variety of reasons children may experience a response that might not be sufficiently potent for them to be fully vaccinated, I would say that there’s really little public health reason to suspend,” Simpson said.
When a group of whooping cough cases in Toronto, ranging from 2 to 75 percent documented cases, hit international headlines last week, many asked whether stopping routine immunizations against the disease was necessary. It’s a precaution Canada’s chief public health officer has said it will consider.
Canada’s chief public health officer has said preventing people with weakened immune systems from being vaccinated is “an extreme step that will have a negative consequence for vulnerable groups.”
So far, there are no cases of the disease in children younger than 12 months old, which means they were exposed to the infection, but didn’t develop the usual symptoms that go along with it.
Three cases have been reported among people older than that.
Anyone suffering from whooping cough can develop labored breathing, especially in infants. Infants can also die from the bacteria and symptoms in adults can be severe, causing coughing spells that may last for weeks.
Canada has been plagued by whooping cough cases for months, and its Public Health Agency warned the number of cases could rise. As of Thursday, about 10 percent of the total number of cases were children younger than 4, the agency said, adding it was unclear how many cases of the disease might be linked to the outbreak.
The outbreak has reached the Eastern Townships and Peterborough in Ontario. While flu shots are usually recommended for Canadians 10 and older, anyone 1 to 9 years old should get a vaccine against whooping cough, the agency said.
“Immunizations have become extremely effective,” said David Lake, Canada’s chief public health officer. “They protect Canadian children at risk of getting disease from every community across this country.”
About nine weeks ago, some doctors suggested putting toddlers who contracted whooping cough into a home quarantine, and telling the parents that their child couldn’t go to school for a week.
Thousands of letters about whooping cough vaccinations went out to families, and about 75 percent of the initial hospitalizations were of children younger than 12 months, the agency said.
Parents began to take steps to bolster the education they provide their children, such as vaccinating for whooping cough before school or reminding them about the importance of shots, said the agency.
Simpson acknowledged it had created anxiety, but said she didn’t think most Canadians understand the link between whooping cough and vaccine.
Immunizations are important, she said, because of the potential for vaccinated children to get whooping cough.