Vaccinated against measles? Unsure? Here’s what you need to know

B.C. has recorded it’s first case of measles in more than five years, and as Kier Junos reports, health officials are warning people to check their vaccination status before heading away for spring break.

Health officials across Canada are urging people to ensure their measles vaccinations are up to date, as cases climb around the world.

In B.C., Dr. Monika Naus, the medical director for immunization programs and vaccine-preventable diseases at the BC Centre for Disease Control, says there are a few ways you can look up your records.

“If you are a child, then your records should be available to you in the Health Gateway app,” she said. “But … it’s possible that adult records are not available through that route. In that case … if, for example, you went to school in British Columbia but you’re well past when you graduated, you should be able to contact your local health unit or the health unit where you would have gone to school and get a copy of your immunization record.”

But finding that information and ensuring you have the necessary immunizations may not be that simple for everyone.

There are a variety of scenarios. Newcomers to Canada, for example, could be arriving from jurisdictions where vaccines weren’t properly documented or never administered to begin with.

“Newcomers may have come with records. Individuals, for example, who went through refugee camps may have been vaccinated and they’ll have a record of that immunization,” Naus said.

‘There’s no barrier if you’re unsure’

Naus and other experts say, generally, if you don’t have a record of immunization, you should get vaccinated.

“If there’s any uncertainty and, importantly, if you grew up in a household where you know vaccines were refused and that you weren’t vaccinated, now’s your opportunity to revisit that issue and get yourself vaccinated,” Naus added.

Dr. Omar Khan, a professor of immunology and biomedical engineering at the University of Toronto, also recommends people who are unsure of their status should get their shots.

“If you’re partially vaccinated, the recommendation is you immediately get your boost because it doesn’t hurt, it just makes things better. If you only have one dose, absolutely get a second one. You’ll get up to nearly 100 per cent protection,” he explained.

“If you’re unsure, that’s another appropriate reason to get vaccinated again. If you’re missing your vaccination record or it’s unclear or maybe it wasn’t written down anywhere, it’s not a problem, you can get it again. There’s no barrier if you’re unsure — you just have to go and ask the doctor.”

In Canada, the vaccine is a “three-in-one,” providing protection against measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR).

People may also receive the measles-mumps-rubella-varicella (MMRV) vaccine, though that one is only authorized for children between the ages of 12 months and 13 years.

The MMR vaccine is typically given in two doses — the first is usually on a child’s first birthday and the second is around the time of starting school.

Experts say children as young as six months can get vaccinated against measles, and should be immunized if they are travelling to countries where the virus is spreading. According to the B.C. Ministry of Health, vaccines against measles are “typically not needed for those born before 1970 as most people in that age group have immunity to measles from a prior infection, before vaccination was widely available.”

Khan notes the vaccines have been in use for years.

“It’s a great vaccine, we’ve been using it forever,” he said.

On Monday, the Ministry of Health said B.C. recorded its first case of measles in five years. At least nine other cases have been reported so far this year in Canada.

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