You may know that public health officials in several states have spent most of the winter trying to contain a measles outbreak that has been traced to Disney’s theme parks in Anaheim. The great majority of those affected have not been vaccinated–and out of that total, most of them really have no good excuse not to have been vaccinated. Well, it turns out the outbreak has now veered north of the border. Canadian health officials are now dealing with a measles outbreak of their own–and it’s directly linked to the Disneyland outbreak.
The Canadian branch of the outbreak originated when two families in the Lanaudi?re region northeast of Montreal visited Disneyland in February. So far, 136 people have been sickened–and as with the American outbreak, nearly all of them are unvaccinated. On Thursday, public health officials set up a vaccination center at a school in Joliette, one of the larger cities in the region. Apparently, a child came to the school on February 27 while contagious. After checking vaccination records, officials found that 114 students hadn’t been vaccinated. So far, 93 of them have now been vaccinated. The remaining 21 have been told to stay home until further notice.
Caroline Quach, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Montreal Children’s Hospital, told the Montreal Gazette that the outbreak is taking place in an isolated portion of the Lanaudi?re area that contains a significant pocket of anti-vaxxers. According to Quach, virtually everyone in this part of Lanaudi?re has opted not to vaccinate their kids for either religious or philosophical reasons. This leaves the region particularly vulnerable to outbreaks, since one person can potentially infect 16 others.
CBC News discovered that at least one of the two families that spread the outbreak into Canada is a member of Mission L’Espirit Saint, a religious community that considers vaccines to be “poison,” in the words of a current member. The group’s founder, Eug?ne Richer Dit La Fl?che, taught that vaccines could cause a person to develop other diseases. That teaching led Shirley Jackson to leave the group 10 years ago. She told CBC Radio that she recalled seeing spurts of other childhood diseases that are almost completely preventable with vaccines, such as whooping cough. Incredibly, according to Jackson, community members believe getting such diseases “will make them stronger.”
As hard as it may be to believe, most provinces in Canada don’t require kids to be vaccinated before enrolling in school. Only New Brunswick, Ontario, and Manitoba have such a requirement. In most cases, however, Canadian parents vaccinate their kids out of a sense of basic responsibility–something to which Quebec premier Philippe Couillard appealed when he urged parents to get their kids vaccinated. The province is also in the process of implementing a provincial vaccination registry by the end of next year in order to ensure that unvaccinated kids can be kept out of school in the event of another outbreak.