Vaccination requests spike amid B.C. measles outbreak

There were 13 confirmed cases of measles in B.C., mostly in Metro Vancouver, as of Sunday

Requests for measles vaccinations have increased significantly across the province amid an outbreak of the disease, B.C. Health Minister Adrian Dix said Tuesday.

“Those numbers are significantly up in every health region,” Dix said.

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“It is happening all around British Columbia now. Eight thousand more doses in the Vancouver Coastal Health Authority, a 50 per cent increase in the last two weeks compared to previous years in the Interior Health Authority and in the Vancouver Island Health Authority. People are responding to this.”

There were 13 confirmed cases of measles in B.C., mostly in Metro Vancouver, as of Sunday. In response, the province has said it expects to require mandatory registration of vaccinations for all students in public and private schools starting in September. It is seen as a way to spot children who have not been vaccinated, and to provide them with vaccinations.

“What I am suggesting today, right now, everyone in British Columbia — especially for their children, but for themselves as well — go and get immunized,” Dix said during question period in the legislature.

Island Health is adding vaccination appointments at all public health units to meet increasing demand, spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said. “For people who require a measles vaccine, their appointments are given priority.”

Over the past three weeks, Vancouver Island public health units have administered 1,473 measles vaccines, up from 931 in the same period last year. This does not include vaccines administered by pharmacists and physicians.

The province is working on beefing up immunization awareness and vaccine availability. It is also figuring out an easy registration system for vaccinations at a time when the province’s electronic health record system “overall has underperformed” and some health authorities still have paper records for immunization, Dix said in an interview.

The significant part of the government’s action will not be the creation of regulations for mandatory registration, he said. “It’s in ensuring that that system of records is in place so that parents can reasonably be able to get access to their own records. That task is a difficult one. But it’s one that we are working on very diligently.”

Pharmacists trained to give measles vaccinations can do so for children five years and older. B.C. provincial health officer Bonnie Henry said more pharmacists could be trained to administer the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne viral infection that spreads by coughing and sneezing. It is preventable with a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine given in two doses.

“My hope, in this month, because there is more than enough vaccine to take care of this in British Columbia — although there are always challenges in delivering services — is that we can see immunization rates rise,” Dix said.

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

Where to get vaccinated

The measles, mumps and rubella vaccine is available from local health units, family doctors, many pharmacists and travel clinics. Call ahead to confirm availability. Contact your local public health unit for information: islandhealth.ca/our-locations/health-unit-locations. If you live on the south Island, you can call the measles information line at 250-544-7676 ext. 27545.

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