Experts weigh in on anti-vaccination messages as Toronto billboards removed

Published On March 21, 2019 | By Michelle Guo | News

A four-year-old receives the measles vaccination in the Philippines. (flickr/Jess Seldon)

Michelle Guo

Some digital anti-vaccination billboards were seen across Toronto in February and faced backlash from members of the community.

These digital billboards were purchased by a group called Vaccination Choice Canada.

Joe Cressy, counselor of Ward 20 Spadina-Fort York and chair of the Toronto Board of Health, called the billboards “deeply disturbing and potentially dangerous” on Twitter.

The billboards were later removed by Outfront Media, the billboard company.

“Promoting an ideology like anti-vaccination that isn’t evidence-based puts our entire population at risk of diseases that could easily be prevented and could be seriously dangerous,” said Qian Shi, a medical student at McMaster University.

This comes after 14 cases in 2019 of measles have popped up in Canada and the infectious disease resurging in several countries worldwide.

Toronto Public Health has warned of possible exposure at Vaughan Mills mall on March 20 between the hours of 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. What’s concerning is that the person who is the source of the measles apparently contracted it while outside Canada.

Two other cases of measles have also been confirmed on Vancouver Island and health officials have been contacting those who may be at risk.

The measles disease is very contagious and those with weakened immune systems, including pregnant women and babies, are at increased risk.

A child from the Kibati camp in Congo is administered the measles vaccination. Flickr/Julien Harneis

The vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) is typically given to children after their first birthday in Ontario and a second dose is given between the ages of four to six.

The effectiveness of the measles vaccine is about 97 per cent after the second dose.

There are online communities that believe vaccines carry various toxins and can cause autism despite research finding vaccines to be safe and no link between autism and vaccines.

These online communities are typically called “anti-vaxxers” or “anti-vaccination advocates”.

“[Anti-Vaccination] is also a potential gateway towards the misinformation of other critical components of medicine, such as pharmaceuticals and nutrition,” Shi said.

Shi said conversations between patients and their general practitioners surrounding vaccinations are important.

Facebook announced it would be removing ads, recommendations, and make it harder to search for anti-vaccination pages with Instagram following in a similar suite.

Pinterest has already implemented a policy that censors searches such as “anti-vaccine” or other terms that they say spread health misinformation.

The Canadian government invested $3.4 million last year to increase vaccination rates in the country.

The current national vaccine coverage level is 89 per cent and it’s said if coverage drops below 95 per cent in a community, the infection risks are greater.

“Education is certainly important but the next part is to really drive home the stories behind vaccination,” said Dr. Lawrence Loh, an adjunct professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto said.

“We know that cases of vaccine-preventable disease can often cause untold suffering in patients across the community,” he said. “Those stories are the ones that need to be told to support existing education efforts that already reassure folks around the safety and effectiveness of vaccines.”

Loh said there is a very small proportion of people who are strongly anti-vaccination and its mainly related to their own personal beliefs and values.

“The reality is that vaccine hesitancy is not a uniform phenomenon,” he said. “Many people legitimately want the best for their kids and for those folks, it’s a matter of reassurance and answering their questions.”

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