Canada is the only G7 country that does not have a plan for universal vaccination coverage, and this is putting the health of its citizens at risk, says the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, which released its newest report on the topic this week. “Canada’s position is that the public health response to a disease outbreak should be geared to local conditions,” the report says. That means, for example, that vaccinating against various diseases in different parts of the country isn’t always the best way to stop an outbreak. This isn’t to say that “we don’t need vaccination. What we are doing is a distribution of medications, not a distribution of health workers,” said Dr. Jad Moumouni, one of the leaders of the steering committee.
Where do the guidelines for when to vaccinate differ from the U.S.? The report mentions a “Zika vaccination program that recommended certain pregnant women get vaccinated in late 2017.” But those guidelines differed from one region to another, and could change again when the virus takes off there. “If vaccination is proven to be ineffective in eliminating a disease, policies should be revised,” the report says. That means, for example, that Quebec should have high vaccination rates for people at risk of catching Zika, whereas residents of the B.C. Lower Mainland should focus on vaccinating pregnant women.
With more than 1.2 billion people—or about two-thirds of the globe’s population—at risk for the three most common vaccine-preventable diseases, the report urges the government to prioritize vaccination for everyone. The grand-sounding goal of universal vaccination never comes with a good dose of reality. Who is the majority of society that would have to be vaccinated to achieve the goal? If the vaccines were free, how would that benefit the government’s bottom line, and what would it cost to provide to residents who weren’t vaccinated? Many people work, and could find another way to cover the cost. Others, such as domestic violence victims and women in prisons, could go unvaccinated in their homes, and the government would have to step in, often at great expense. The U.S. works under more reasonable incentives, offering community vaccination against several diseases, for example.
While vaccination isn’t cheap, it’s still a better investment than the costs of keeping people alive when they are sick. Beyond denying access to health care, the threat of widespread public health scares like those of whooping cough or measles makes it hard for people to learn to defend themselves against potentially dangerous health issues. Remember, whooping cough can cause young children to stop breathing, or even kill them. Luckily, it’s relatively uncommon in the U.S., and has recently dropped off a lot. And measles? It makes a return too easily, thanks to so many countries getting the virus at the same time.
We know that only a small fraction of people are likely to get any of these diseases. That’s great. But if we really want the whole world to be protected, we’re going to have to start getting the rest of the population vaccinated. Unless that means war.
Read the full report here.
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