Measles in Canada

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Measles in Canada before vaccinations

Measles, a serious and highly contagious childhood disease, was once common in Canada. 

Before vaccinations, about 300,000 - 400,000 Canadians caught the measles every year. Some people recovered completely, but many did not. In 1926, almost 900 Canadians died because of the measles. Survivors risked living with lifelong complications like permanent brain damage or deafness.

In the 1960’s, the first measles vaccine was introduced to Canadians. Thanks to vaccines, measles cases have decreased by 99%.

Elimination of measles in Canada

Measles has been eliminated in Canada since 1998.This was a direct result of successful universal vaccination programs. Since elimination, measles is relatively rare in Canada. However, measles is still common in other parts of the world. For that reason, it is possible for cases and outbreaks to return to Canada.

Measles is very easy to catch. Travellers who are not vaccinated can bring measles back home. As a result, new outbreaks can happen in Canada, especially in communities where people are not vaccinated.

Importance of community immunity

The more people who are vaccinated in the community, the lower the risk of infection for those who cannot be vaccinated like young infants and people with certain medical conditions. When large groups of people are vaccinated, they create "community immunity" (also known as herd immunity). This means that when you are vaccinated, you protect yourself as well as those around you. Because measles spreads easily, at least 95% of people need to be vaccinated for community immunity to work.

Why measles outbreaks are happening in Canada

Vaccination rates in Canada have declined since measles was declared eliminated in 1998. The decline in vaccination rates has been the result of vaccine hesitancy, as well as complacency about the risks of the diseases vaccines prevent. This is not just a Canadian problem, as countries around the globe struggle with similar issues.

While measles in Canada is no longer considered endemic (i.e., constantly circulating), outbreaks can happen when an unvaccinated or under-vaccinated individual travels to a country where measles is circulating and brings the disease back with them. This can, and has, led to measles outbreaks in Canada.

Vaccination is the best way to protect you, your children, and your community.

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