Canadian Health Headlines 2018
Vaccinations – In my grandmother’s day, they didn’t exist. Both my mother’s parents and many of their relatives died of complications due to Tuberculosis. My mother’s parent met in a Tuberculosis sanatorium and my mother was born there in the late 1930s. My mother lost over a year of school due to contracting Mumps, Rubella, and Rheumatic Fever. My mother’s school lost several children due to what are now preventable diseases – and she saw many child-sized coffins during that time.
In Canada, there were no antibiotics until the 1940s (BBC,1999, A brief history of antibiotics). The 1950s brought significant vaccinations improving public health and eliminating Polio in most of the world. The Smallpox vaccination eliminated the disease worldwide in 1979 (The Immunology Advisory Centre, 2017, A brief history of vaccinations).
As a result of immunization, my children did not contract these preventable diseases nor do they have the telltale vaccination Smallpox scar as I do.
So what changed?
In the late 1990s, the manipulation of medical data was done for profit (Weston, 2013). A most notable and unconscionable example is the scientific publication of data linking the childhood measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism and gastrointestinal difficulties in children that was published in the well-respected medical journal, The Lancet (Wakefield et al., 1998). Wakefield and colleagues based their data results on the study of 12 children, which were, in turn, manipulated to discredit the MMR vaccine. This study was later found to be fraudulent, and the paper was retracted by The Lancet (The Editors of the Lancet, 2010).
The fallout from the publication of the connection between the MMR vaccine and autism, resulted in a significant reduction of immunization of all vaccines among school-aged children (Smith, Ellenberg, Bell, & Rubin, 2008), and a resurgence of previously preventable childhood diseases (Dominus, 2011).
Parents not vaccinating their children.
As a teacher, I’ve experienced parents explaining to me that they were not vaccinating their children due to the link of immunization to autism. Other parents cite negative impacts on children’s immune systems as a reason to not vaccinate their children – they wanted to give their children’s immune system a vaccination vacation. After I mentioned an outbreak of mumps close by, one boy’s father stated that he was using holistic supplements to build his 8 year old child’s immune system. The boy’s father, who identified as an anti-vaxxer, had been granted exemption from having his son vaccinated.
Some children cannot be vaccinated.
Some children have significant health problems which prevents them from getting the full spectrum of vaccinations. Not vaccinating one student is not impactful as populations can rely on herd immunity meaning that most people are vaccinated.
Herd Immunity Works
A public health problem occurs when a large percentage of the population do not get vaccinated or fail to update their immunization. For mumps, herd immunity is about 90% vaccinated. Another challenge with vaccinations is that one shot of the vaccine does not provide full protection. With Measles, one dose provides 93% protection while a second shot give 97% protection from the disease.
Vaccinations do not always work on the very young or very old.
An additional challenge with immunization is that not all people respond to immunization. Very young children and seniors may not develop a very strong immune response thus making them even more susceptible to preventable diseases, even with vaccinations. During school administered vaccinations, I often remind my own students that vaccinations are not to protect them but to protect the very young and very old people in their families.
How do the lack of student’s vaccinations impact teachers?
In the fall of 2009, my grade 7 student had a birthday party, with most of the class attending. Most of the students came down with H1N1 and so did I. When it struck, I felt like a truck had hit me. I could hardly walk. My students, of course, recovered faster. At the time, the H1N1 Flu vaccine had not yet been released.
By January 2010, I was still weakened from my H1N1 Flu experience. A shopping trip to Buffalo – USA, resulted in me getting a “100 day cough” which turned out to be Whopping Cough. At the time, my doctor and her family were very ill with H1N1, so it took me months to finally see her – instead of a series of walk-in clinic doctors. When she did see me, she took one look at me and announced I had Whooping Cough.
Having Whooping Cough was a nightmare- I spent many nights sitting up coughing instead of sleeping. I took every Wednesday off for several weeks as I was so tired from coughing and not sleeping – I could hardly drive myself to school – it lasted 5 months. The next year, I contracted Whooping Cough again, as getting the disease does not make a person immune. My doctor informed me that the immunization only lasted about 4 years and public health relied mostly on herd immunity to control outbreaks. Now I get the DPT vaccination (diphtheria, pertussis-whooping cough, & tetanus) every 4 years.
So what can teachers do to prevent outbreaks of preventable diseases?
- Update your own immunization
- Immunize your children
- Ensure your elderly relatives have their immunization updated
- Wash your hands, often.
- Stay home when you have a fever, rash, diarrhea, and/or vomiting
As teachers, we care very much about our students and their health. As teachers, we can advocate for the immunization of students. And we can work to protect the health of others.
Dominus, S. (2011, April 20). The crash and burn of an autism guru. New York Times Magazine. The Editors of The Lancet. (2010, February). Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet, 375(9713), 445.
Smith, M. J., Ellenberg, S. S., Bell, L. M., & Rubin, D. M. (2008). Media coverage of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine and autism controversy and its relationship to MMR immunization rates in the United States. Pediatrics, 121(4), 836-43.
The Editors of The Lancet. (2010, February). Retraction–Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet, 375(9713), 445.
Wakefield, A. J., Murch, S. H., Anthony, A., Linnell, J., Casson, D. M., Malik, M., … WalkerSmith, J. A. (1998). Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children. The Lancet, 351(9103), 637–41.
Weston, D. (2013). A Positive Constructivist: An Internal Debate on Opposing Educational Philosophies. Teaching and Learning, 8(1).