Written by Sara Lai, CNN
Speaking at a press conference on Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor officially announced that they will require Canadians to vaccinate their children against both the flu and measles before they are eligible for free daycare.
For Trudeau, the initiative is part of his ongoing push to bring the world together, as well as a way to reaffirm what has become a hallmark of Canada’s proud international image: that we stand ready to take on global challenges. “We want to demonstrate our belief in a truly globalized Canada,” he said, “one in which all Canadians — wherever they live — have the opportunity to reach their full potential.”
Trudeau was speaking at the World Health Organization Headquarters in Geneva, as it agreed that flu and measles vaccines — not to mention something Trudeau likely feels very strongly about: an increased focus on tackling climate change — are all contributors to global security, and therefore on the imperative to protect a functioning global community.
“Diagnosing and preventing infectious diseases is as important as providing medical care to victims of violent conflicts,” the World Health Organization said in a statement, explaining its decision.
“A wider global immunization effort would help us reduce the spread of disease, thereby avoiding collateral damage to innocent communities.”
Having played host to UN meetings in 2017 and 2018, Trudeau probably knows what he’s talking about when it comes to global health. Still, the move is a step in the right direction, and rightfully so. But beyond making headlines internationally, what exactly does it mean to ask children in Canada to get vaccinated?
The consequences of not being vaccinated — and the many reasons why — are well known to vaccine skeptics. Canadian health columnist Joseph Mercola, a champion of alternative medicine who has spoken out against vaccinations in the past, tweeted this morning, “It’s scary how high the in-years have now climbed to 100% universal childhood vaccination with all the potential side effects.”
The HPV vaccine can be hard to side-step
While the highly contagious H1N1 virus that caused the worldwide pandemic of 1918 and remains deadly today is once again leading the list of infectious diseases in Canada, it is the highly infectious human papillomavirus (HPV) that public health officials seem to be most concerned about.
According to CTV News, the number of cases of HPV-related cancers in Canada has skyrocketed by 400% over the past 20 years, with an estimated 80,000 cases of cervical cancer among the population and 24,000 new cases of oropharyngeal cancer in Canada each year. The two cancers of the head and neck have been associated with HPV for approximately 20 years, and more than 2 million Canadians now have HPV-related cancer diagnoses.
A few years ago, however, the connection between HPV and these cancers in particular were often dismissed as the result of chance and observational data by anti-vaccine groups — who believe vaccines carry unnecessary risks. In 2017, for example, multiple studies showed that protecting against HPV did not reduce the risk of cancer — leading the Canadian Cancer Society to maintain its position that vaccinations are “essential to the overall health of our population.”
Together with Canadians, we must make sure the vaccine remains effective and is widely accessible
Others have speculated that because more men are now opting to receive and administer vaccinations, the possibility of mistaken diagnoses has been raised. This is likely the exact reason why the decision to require vaccinations for daycare’s is well-timed, as only a small number of children have been getting vaccinated for both the flu and measles in Canada this year.
The disease has been on the rise this year, especially in Ontario and Quebec, as the proportion of children eligible for two doses of the Flushot vaccine has plummeted. According to a government news release, “Only 83% of eligible children received two doses of the vaccine in Ontario.” On the plus side, the vaccination uptake for measles remained high.
But the number of children at risk for both infections is high. To that end, the leadership of Canada is pressing ahead in finding ways to ensure that the vaccine stays in the hands of all Canadians, regardless of where they live. “It’s beyond words what is at stake for our children,” Trudeau said.
“When people who live and work in one part of Canada take it upon themselves to go out and vaccinate their children and other people, that is a kind of civic obligation that we have, and we must do everything we can to take advantage of that.”