National Immunization Awareness Week
COVID-19 has brought the importance of immunizations to the forefront of our minds. It’s National Immunization Awareness Week in Canada so we thought it would be a good opportunity to highlight the importance of other vaccines as well.
Infectious diseases were once the leading cause of death worldwide. In Canada, they now cause less than 5% of all deaths, thanks in part to the success of immunization programs across the country. Here are a few examples of the impacts of immunizations programs in Canada:
- Before the introduction of routine vaccines in Canada, there were more than 53,000 cases of measles every year, causing hundreds of deaths annually. As of today, there has been a 99% decrease in measles cases and most doctors have never even seen a case of it.
- Diphtheria was one of the leading causes of death in children under age 5 until the mid 1920’s in Canada when the vaccine was introduced. Today, diphtheria is a very rare disease in Canada, with the last death from the disease occurring in 2010.
- In 1953 there were over 9,000 cases of polio reported in Canada, crippling tens of thousands of Canadians. An estimated 11,000 people were left paralyzed by polio in Canada between 1949 and 1954. After the vaccine was introduced in 1955 there were only 3 cases reported in 1965.
The Importance of Community Immunity
Infant and early childhood immunizations are essential in protecting your child from diseases that can still spread even with physical distancing. If enough people decided not to vaccinate their children during the pandemic, diseases could easily spread. If a few cases of a disease were introduced into a community where enough people aren’t vaccinated, there could be outbreaks of the disease. We have seen this with measles when vaccination rates in a community become low enough and an unvaccinated or under-vaccinated person travels to a country where measles is circulating and brings the disease back with them. This happened in BC’s Fraser Valley in 2014 when an outbreak occurred with 433 reported cases of measles. Diseases could once again become as common as they were before vaccines were available.
All infant and childhood vaccines should be given on time. Call your nearest public health clinic to arrange an appointment for your child. Some parents might be anxious about attending an immunization clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, these clinics have been streamlined and careful precautions have been adopted by the immunizers to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Adults Need Vaccines Too!
Adults also require vaccines to stay healthy and to help prevent the spread of diseases. For some vaccines, the immune response can decrease over time and a booster is required for continued protection.
Vaccines recommended for adults depend on your lifestyle, career, age, health, and vaccine history:
- Tetanus, diphtheria (Td)
- Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) (Tdap)
- Shingles (Shingrix)
- Pneumococcal Pneumonia (Prevnar13 or Pneumo23)
- Hepatitis B
- Hepatitis A
- Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
- Measles Mumps, Rubella (MMR)
- Varicella (Chickenpox)
How do Vaccines Prevent Disease?
A pathogen is a bacterium, virus, parasite, or fungus that can cause disease in the body. When the body is infected by a pathogen our immune system is triggered to produce antibodies and destroy the pathogen.
When you receive a vaccine for a specific disease, a weakened or inactive part of a pathogen is introduced into your body to trigger an immune response. The weakened pathogen in the vaccine cannot cause the disease but triggers the same response your body would make if you were exposed to the disease in the environment. Your immune system responds by creating antibodies against the pathogen and remember show to destroy it. So, if you come in contact with the pathogen in the future, your immune system responds immediately to destroy it and you won’t get sick.
Don’t Forget Your Booster!
A booster is the same dose of the vaccine you have already received. Depending on the type of vaccine, sometimes one dose isn’t enough to provide long term protection against a disease. A second or third dose of the vaccine essentially “boosts” the immune system to provide long-term protection.
For most vaccines, if you started but did not complete a vaccine series, you simply continue with the series. If you do not have vaccine records and are unsure what you previously received, it is safe to repeat vaccinations. Bloodwork can also determine if you are immune to certain diseases.
Keeping a Record
There is no centralized system in BC that keeps a record of your immunizations. This is up to you! A good starting point to finding your records is to contact your local public health unit. In addition, you might need to contact each clinic or office where you received vaccinations.
Clinics where you may have received vaccinations:
- your family doctor
- public health unit (eg. Vancouver Coastal Health, Fraser Health)
- travel clinic
- walk-in clinic
- elementary or high school (you will need to contact the public health office near the school(s)
- workplace clinics (if you were vaccinated through your employer)
There are now options for keeping an immunization record on your mobile device:
Health Gateway: A secure way to access your health information for British Colombians including COVID-19 test results and immunization records received Public Health and community pharmacies. Visit the Government of BC’s website to register: https://www.healthgateway.gov.bc.ca/
CANImmunize: A digital immunization record for Canadians to easily and securely track your immunization records on your mobile device or the web. Download the app or create an account online: https://www.canimmunize.ca/en/home
The Cost of Vaccines
The BC Ministry of Health provides publicly funded vaccines for protection against diseases that are a public health risk for Canadians. These vaccines are covered by MSP and are free for anyone living in BC, such as tetanus/diphtheria, measles/mumps/rubella, and chickenpox.
Vaccines that protect against diseases that are NOT a high risk in Canada are not covered by MSP and must be paid by the recipient. These are mainly travel vaccines such as yellow fever, typhoid fever, and Japanese encephalitis.
Other vaccines are recommended but not provided for free because the risk is low compared to the cost of the vaccine for the government. This is true for the shingles (Shingrix) and pneumococcal pneumonia (Prevnar13) vaccines. They are recommended for those ≥50 years of age but are not covered by MSP.
Vaccine Side Effects
The most common side effects of any vaccination are soreness, and redness or swelling at the injection site. These side effects are generally mild and usually last 1-2 days. On occasion, some vaccines can cause fever, achiness, fatigue, or a headache. Applying a cool compress to the site and taking Acetaminophen (Tylenol) or Ibuprofen (Advil) can decrease tenderness.
The Timing of COVID-19 Vaccines with Other Vaccines
It is generally not a problem to receive more than one vaccine at the same time. However, it is not recommended to receive any vaccine within 14 days before or after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine unless it is needed for post-exposure prophylaxis (e.g. treatment for rabies following a high risk exposure). If another vaccine is inadvertently given on the same day or within 14 days before or after a COVID-19 vaccine, neither dose needs to be repeated.
Wondering Which Vaccines You May Need to Protect Your Health?
Now is a great time to review your vaccine records. A Registered Nurse at TravelSafe can provide a comprehensive review of your immunization history and discuss other vaccines recommended for you based on your lifestyle, age, and health history. Protect your health and stay up to date with your immunizations!
We’d like to hear from you! If you have a question or a topic you’d like us to review, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org