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Children in Peel Region risk catching measles due to low vaccination rates, warns doctor

Measles symptoms include red rash, fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and fatigue, and may start around 10 days after exposure but can appear anywhere from seven to 21 days later.  (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press - image credit)
Measles symptoms include red rash, fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and fatigue, and may start around 10 days after exposure but can appear anywhere from seven to 21 days later. (Damian Dovarganes/The Associated Press - image credit)

As the number of measles cases continue to rise across Ontario, a Peel Region doctor says parents should be wary of low vaccination rates and how that puts their children at risk for the highly contagious disease that can be fatal.

The most recent numbers are from last year, but they're in the spotlight again as Europe grapples with measles outbreaks and the number of cases in Canada, mostly from travel, rise.

In Peel Region, the number of seven-year-olds considered fully vaccinated against measles went from 77 per cent in 2020 to 39 per cent in 2022, per a Public Health Ontario report.

That figure is "concerning," said Dr. Sanjeev Luthra, a pediatrician at the William Osler Health System.

"That substantially puts children and people at risk who are not immunized, especially if measles is in the community," he said.

One case of measles has been reported in Peel Region so far this year. Cases have also been reported in recent weeks in Toronto, Hamilton, York, and Simcoe.

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The drastic drop in vaccination since 2020 might be partly due to the lack of mandated reporting during the pandemic among school-aged children, Peel's public health agency told CBC Toronto in a statement.

The pandemic caused "significant disruptions" to routine immunizations because most primary care offices restricted in-person visits, and check-ups took place over telephone, according to the provincial report.

It also "contributed to diminished health care seeking behaviours among Canadians, including deferred immunizations," the report says.

That can mean a transmission rate of over 90 per cent in the community for kids who are not vaccinated, Luthra says.

Peel suspending unvaccinated students 

Symptoms include red rash, fever, cough, runny nose, red eyes and fatigue, and may start around 10 days after exposure but can appear anywhere from seven to 21 days later.

While some of the illness can be mild, Luthra says there can be serious complications of having measles.

"Children can get very unwell. They may have to go to the doctor if they're sick, or they may have to go to the emergency department," he said. "If they're sick enough, there can be even fatalities from measles."

Pediatrician at William Osler Health System Dr. Sanjeev Luthra says Peel's decade low vaccination rate for measles puts unvaccinated kids at high risk.
Pediatrician at William Osler Health System Dr. Sanjeev Luthra says Peel's decade low vaccination rate for measles puts unvaccinated kids at high risk.

In Peel Region, the number of seven-year-olds considered fully vaccinated against measles went from 77% in 2020 to 39% in 2022, per a Public Health Ontario report. That figure is 'concerning,' said Dr. Sanjeev Luthra, a pediatrician at William Osler Health System. (Submiteed by Sanjeev Luthra)

Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine offers over 85 per cent protection with one dose, and nearly 100 per cent with the second dose, Luthra says.

Peel's health agency told CBC Toronto that in an effort to increase vaccine uptake in the region it has "started to collect immunization information again this year and [is] sending out communications to parents/guardians of children whose records are incomplete or not up to date."

At some schools, unvaccinated students are being suspended under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, the agency says.

Peel District School Board says since staff are on holiday for March break the board can't provide specific details on vaccination suspensions at this time.