Educating parents key to public health

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As the anti-vaccination movement sweeps North America and leaves preventable diseases unaddressed, it’s critical parents learn how to protect their children.  
 
Parents’ fears of vaccines are nothing new, but organized opposition against vaccinations is on the rise due to extensive misinformation online.
 
Before Canada introduced the measles vaccine in 1963, there was a reported average of 53,800 measles cases annually. In 2015, there were only 195 cases.  
 
Cancer patients, the elderly, and newborns too young to be vaccinated are at risk of contracting diseases from unvaccinated people. If those people are surrounded by vaccinated individuals, diseases can be contained. Preventing outbreaks requires herd immunization, which is when populations are vaccinated at rates of 96 to 99 per cent in cases like the measles, according to the U.S. National Library of Medicine.
 
As vaccination rates decline, disease outbreaks increase. We can’t let misinformation regress our medical literacy.
 
A widely-discredited study linking cases of autism with the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine has influenced a generation of parents. The study has been deemed unethical, with an undisclosed conflict of interest, and the paper that published it officially redacted the findings in 1998.
 
But the impact of this disproven study persists, compounded by distrust of modern medicine and movements prioritizing “natural” health remedies. 
 
Hearsay has reinforced hysteria, as children exhibit early symptoms of autism around the same age as their first scheduled immunizations. This perceived correlation can lead to parents believing in the redacted study.  
 
While Canada does provide extensive information about vaccinations, more needs to be done to tackle our suboptimal vaccination rate.  
 
Ontario requires all children to be vaccinated to attend school, but parents and guardians may cite “conscience or religious belief” to excuse their kids from this rule. That’s how I passed through the entire education system vaccine-free. 
 
Recently, Ontario implemented an initiative that ensures parents receive a Vaccine Education Certificate  before they excuse children from mandatory vaccines. This makes sure they can make informed decisions before they risk the lives of their children and other members of their community. 
 
Parents who abstain from vaccinations may be trying to do what they think is best, but their choices must be guided by fact—not fiction.
 
Education is essential to promote trust in preventative medicine. Immunization science should be worked into public education early on. Widespread awareness campaigns must reach parents before misinformation can. 
 
It’s time for parents to understand the consequences of their vaccination choices. They need to be educated before they further risk public health. 
 
Amelia is The Journal’s Video Editor. She’s a third-year Fine Art major.
 

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