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Opposition to vaccination among parents grows, poll suggests

A growing number of Canadian parents say they are opposed to vaccinating their children, according to a new poll, amid a resurgence in potentially deadly diseases such as measles.

The opinion poll, released Wednesday by the Angus Reid Institute, comes as public health officials try to catch up on routine vaccinations among children after a drop off during the pandemic. 

Among survey respondents, 17 per cent of parents of minors said they are “really against” vaccinating their kids, compared with four per cent in 2019. A majority, 67 per cent, said they would vaccinate their child “without reservation,” down from five years prior. Meanwhile, 16 per cent said they weren’t sure.

An increased number of parents also said they were opposed to mandatory vaccination in school, which is a policy in place in Ontario and New Brunswick. Opposition to this idea climbed from 24 per cent to 38 per cent between 2019 and 2024.

The pandemic likely led to increased skepticism among some Canadians about vaccination, according to Caroline Quach-Thanh, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist at Montreal’s Sainte-Justine Hospital.

WATCH: Don’t underestimate the risk of diseases like measles, doctor cautions:

Don’t underestimate the risk of diseases like measles, doctor cautions

Dr. Caroline Quach-Thanh, a microbiologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist, says people may not understand the risk of diseases like measles because vaccines have been so successful at minimizing transmission.

She said programs where parents can meet with a health provider and ask questions can help address any concerns.

“I think it’s through discussion that people can change their mind,” she told CBC News. 

She stressed that routine vaccinations are safe and effective, and that failing to get protection against diseases such as measles can have grave consequences, not just for one’s own children but for other vulnerable individuals who aren’t eligible to get immunized.

Public health officials across the country have been working to get Canadian children back up to date on immunizations, after routine childhood vaccinations fell during the pandemic.

In 2021, nearly 300,000 children had missed or delayed routine immunizations, according to a survey by 19 to Zero, a not-for-profit coalition of medical and public health experts that facilitates vaccination.

Explosion of measles cases

Measles cases have recently spiked in Europe, as well as parts of the United States.

Experts have raised concern Canada could soon be the site of outbreaks as well.

Canada eliminated measles back in 1998 through widespread vaccination programs.

In this country, the vaccine is given to children as two doses of a combined shot that also protects against a combination of infections — either measles, mumps and rubella, or measles, mumps, rubella and varicella. 

A mother and her daughter wait at a community health centre to complete their vaccination schedule, in Caracas, in 2022.
Measles cases have recently spiked in Europe, as well as parts of the United States.  Experts have raised concern Canada could soon be the site of outbreaks as well. (Yuri Cortez/AFP/Getty Images)

The annual case count remains small — only a dozen confirmed infections were reported country-wide in 2023 — and most cases are now acquired through travel outside the country.

But experts say outbreaks are still a risk. Canada, like many other countries, hasn’t hit the 95 per cent vaccination coverage required to prevent its spread.

Measles is airborne, highly infectious and can have serious consequences, including blindness, deafness and death.  

Importance of vaccines

The Angus Reid survey was conducted online between Feb. 16 and Feb. 19 among 1,626 Canadian adults. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus two percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

The survey also noted that the question of vaccination has become more difficult to discuss among friends and family since the pandemic. 

One in five of those polled said they worry about vaccination being brought up in social circles. 

It found that perception of vaccines varies widely among Canadians, with 29 per cent viewing them as “very effective,” while, on the other side of the spectrum, 14 per cent believe vaccination is harmful and unnecessary.

Medical experts stress that vaccines are the best way to prevent against serious disease. 

Two doses of the measles vaccine, for instance, is 97 per cent effective and has saved an estimated 57 million lives between 2000 and 2022, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Canada, vaccines prevent illnesses such as diphtheria, whooping cough, polio, rotavirus, hepatitis B, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, pneumococcal and meningococcal diseases, human papillomavirus virus (HPV), influenza and measles.

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