Island Health is dealing with a surge of vaccination requests following a measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. (Black Press Media file photo)

Island Health dealing with ‘surge’ of measles vaccination requests in Nanaimo

No measles cases on Vancouver Island says Island Health

Multiple measles outbreaks in the Pacific Northwest have local health officials dealing with an ever-increasing demand for the vaccine.

Dr. Paul Hasselback, Island Health’s chief medical officer for the central Island, said requests for measles vaccines have skyrocketed following outbreaks in Metro Vancouver and Washington State.

“We have seen a surge in requests for the measles vaccine,” he said, adding that local officials are overwhelmed with all the requests but are doing their best to accommodate everyone.

Vancouver Coastal Health has confirmed nine cases of measles in Metro Vancouver due to an unvaccinated child who attended school after contracting the disease while on family vacation in Vietnam. Meanwhile, health officials in Washington confirmed 65 cases in the state this year, with 64 of them occurring in Clark County, near Oregon, which also has one confirmed case.

There are no cases of measles anywhere on Vancouver Island according to Hasselback. He said VIHA is monitoring the situations Metro Vancouver and Washington State very closely.

“We’ve had no measles case on the Island yet. The last case of measles on the Island was seen in Nanaimo four years ago and it was a solitary case,” he said.

Hasselback said the surge in vaccination requests in Nanaimo isn’t exactly a bad thing because it shows the community cares and wants to be protected.

“People should always be concerned about measles. Even if we contain this one, we are going to get another situation where someone has been travelling globally and brings measles back,” he said.

RELATED: Health officials confirm case of measles in Vancouver

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Measles is a viral infection that typically occurs in children and causes red rashes on the skin. Hasselback called it of the “most infectious diseases” because it can be spread through the air and contracting it can lead to further health complications and ultimately death if not treated.

“It’s a disease we would definitely prefer not to have in our community. For those who do come down with the illness, it’s not nice,” he said. “The vast majority recover but there are complications that can occur and we still see measles as a significant contributor of death in areas where vaccination isn’t readily available, mostly in developing countries.”

A measles outbreak in Madagascar has killed more than 900 people since September according to the World Health Organization.

Nanaimo has a very high rate of immunization against measles while the Island-wide the vaccination rate is above 90 per cent according to Hasselback. He said despite the belief that many parents aren’t vaccinating their children for measles, nearly 90 per cent of kids are vaccinated by the age of two and over 95 per cent are vaccinated by the age of five.

“While there seems to be a perception that people aren’t vaccinating, most parents are great parents and they do ensure that their kids are protected,” Hasselback said.

Most adults born before 1957 are considered immune to measles while those born between 1957 and 1970 likely received one dose of the measles vaccine and might need a booster shot, according to Hasselback. He said those born after 1970 are encouraged to receive two doses of measles vaccine if they haven’t already been vaccinated.

The provincial government recently announced the possibility of implementing a mandatory vaccination registry, similar to the system Ontario has. That province requires all children to be vaccinated for measles before they can attend public school.

Hasselback said he’s supportive of a vaccination registry and thinks mandatory vaccination would be beneficial for the province because it would impact a small percentage of the population, adding that vaccination rates in B.C. are similar to those in Ontario even though it’s law in Ontario.

“Mandatory immunization isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it affects so few people, because most parents are immunizing their kid,” he said.

Hasselback also stressed that people should keep their vaccination records with them or obtain them if they don’t know what vaccination they’ve had. He said adults who are unsure of whether they have been vaccinated should ask their parents first, but if that isn’t an option or their parents don’t know, they should contact the health authority in the region they grew up in.

“Everyone should always know what their vaccination status is for all vaccines and you should keep your immunization records with you so that you have it,” Hasselback said.

Parents who wish to vaccinate their child can contact VIHA at 250-755-3342.

RELATED: Measles epidemic in Madagascar kills more than 900, says WHO

RELATED: Philippines says 136 people have died in measles outbreak 
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