But there is a downside to the near eradication of vaccine-preventable illnesses. Most Canadians were born too recently to see the night-and-day difference in public health brought about by immunizations—individuals who witnessed the horrors of the polio epidemics of the 1950s first hand are now well into old age, and many have passed away. Good health can be taken for granted when the public does not properly understand the link between that same good health and the measures that made it possible, and unfortunately, history and science cannot always conquer misinformation, mistrust, and fear.
Much of the current antivaccine sentiment in public discourse results from widely publicized (and now discredited) pseudo-scientific reports of adverse outcomes. The 1998 claim by UK physician Dr Andrew Wakefield that the MMR vaccine caused autism contributed to a collapse in uptake of MMR vaccine in the UK and a subsequent surge in rubella cases in unimmunized children.
Experts estimate that herd immunity is achieved when 95% of a population has been immunized. Canadian immunization rates have fallen in recent years to levels well below this threshold. Canada’s Public Health Agency estimates that only 62% of 2-year-olds are up to date with their shots.
It is disheartening enough that misinformation about vaccines is spread by voices ranging from outspoken celebrities like Jennifer MacCarthy to various alternative medicine trades, but it is cause for urgent concern when public institutions entrusted with the health of Canadians enable misinformation about endemic communicable diseases to go forward with the imprimatur of science.