Erin O’Toole, the Conservative MP for Durham, is a chair of a committee that is looking into how to tackle severe childhood health conditions in northern Ontario. Earlier this summer, the committee held hearings on the issue of auto-immune conditions, and its report is due by September. What is clear is that these illnesses are very common in the region, and it will be devastating if there is no strategy in place to deal with them by the time the members leave.
It is also clear that all parties involved in these hearings believe that the problems are systemic — and it will be very difficult to fix this problem unless they look more deeply into the very specific circumstances surrounding the region. That is why questions about vaccines have become so important. And it’s why it is time for Ms. O’Toole to say no.
One of the arguments often made in the recent debate about vaccines is that there is no link between vaccines and autism, or other health conditions. You would have to be pretty naive to think that these very common health problems are the result of childhood vaccines, and that it’s some other reason for these autism and autoimmune conditions.
After all, between 1992 and 2005, there was an explosion in childhood vaccines. In just those eight years, the measles shot was three times more common than it had been in previous years, and the pertussis shot was five times more common.
The Medical Council of Ontario recently reported that of approximately 10,000 children born in 2010 to 2011, more than 95 percent had received all three of these vaccines before the age of one. While one in four babies in Canada was vaccinated during this period, this group does not represent the populations most likely to be at risk for birth defects. So it is essential that the committee looks at who these kids are: young, healthy kids who have received the most widely used childhood vaccines on the market. It will show us which are children who are at increased risk for birth defects. In that subset of children, it is critical that the Committee asks the questions it will not go soft on.
That means it must look closely at the question of how kids are getting these vaccines. The answer: around 70 percent of parents choose to have them given their children at home. That can be dangerous. Two sisters who live in Sault Ste. Marie were hospitalized with a serious reaction after being given the MMR vaccine at home. An 18-month-old Canadian boy died after getting an MMR vaccine at home in a family that had previously been vaccinated against the preventable disease. There were 43 children hospitalized due to reactions to the MMR vaccine in Sault Ste. Marie in the two years to 2016.
The largest risk is to parents who decide to have their children vaccinated at home. While a child might be vaccinated at home because of religious beliefs, it doesn’t necessarily make the risks of a measles or pertussis shot as low as they would be if they were taken to the health care provider before they were too old.
And don’t be afraid to look for alternative, cheaper methods of vaccination — whether it’s because it’s just too expensive to get vaccines in the long run or because it’s not safe. Medical homes are one example of a cheaper and more effective way to vaccinate families. In 2004, Canada was one of the first countries to allow organizations like SickKids to take over the care of children being immunized at home. In 2010, the conservative government in Ontario introduced it. Like vaccines in general, this can protect the most vulnerable, and it also ensures that no vaccine misses its target child.
The parties in the Northern Ontario committee have heard testimony on auto-immune conditions. That’s critical work, and that is what will ultimately drive the recommendations the committee will make. But it is quite likely that these conditions can be solved in the short term if the committees seeks that expertise. Now that Ms. O’Toole is chair, it’s time for her to show leadership on this issue and draw the line on vaccines. It’s important for a member of Parliament who has been named chair of a health committee to take a hard line on this issue. In order to improve the lives of young children, this committee needs to start working with strong evidence to solve serious issues like vaccine safety.