More than 30 per cent of Fraser babies not fully vaccinated

Region's below-target rate likely from parents losing track, not anti-vax ideology, says medical health officer

Fewer babies in Fraser Health are being immunized against preventable diseases than public health officials would like.

More than 30 per cent of infants in the Fraser Health region are not getting vaccinated on schedule and public health officials say that rate of non-compliance is a concern.

Fraser statistics show 69 per cent of two-year-olds are up to date on the standard recommended vaccinations against diseases such as diptheria, measles, polio and Hepatitis B.

That’s short of the region’s current target of at least 73 per cent and a goal of more than 80 per cent immunized by 2017. The province has a target of 90 per cent by 2023.

Medical health officer Dr. Michelle Murti doesn’t think the statistics reflect a dangerous level of ideological opposition to vaccinations.

She said 94 per cent of new parents in the region start their kids’ vaccinations at the two-month mark but many then fail to keep them up, perhaps losing track after they return to work.

“They do start but then life gets busy and we see significant drop-off over that two year schedule, especially at the 12- and 18-month points,” Murti said.

Nor is the phenomenon new.

Fraser’s immunization rates for two-year-olds have hovered around the same level for the past five years, ranging from a low of 61 per cent in early 2010 to a high of 72 per cent in the spring of 2012.

Murti said she believes the rates are similar for B.C. as a whole and not unique to the Fraser region.

The health authority released its statistics this week, she said, in an attempt to “capitalize” on public interest in the measles outbreak linked to Disneyland in the U.S.

Fraser got more calls from parents wanting vaccinations in the wake of the Disneyland outbreak than during the local measles outbreak last year that was centred on Chilliwack.

Murti said the immunization rates are quite consistent across the Fraser region, with minor exceptions.

“We do know we have pockets of communities, especially in the Fraser East area, where we have low rates due to personal objection to immunizations,” she said.

Surrey’s Guildford and Cloverdale neighbourhoods, on the other hand, are a bit higher than the regional average.

Murti thinks technology can help parents keep track of their kids’ immunization schedules and boost rates over time.

She said parents can sign up for free text message reminders of when their baby needs to return for boosters or download a free smartphone app to record and follow the vaccination schedule.

There’s also a free child health passport that can be obtained from public health offices or downloaded online.

Links to all three resources, as well as immunization schedules and more information can be found at fraserhealth.ca/immunize.

Murti said it’s also important for newcomers to B.C. to transfer their health records so their immunizations are on file here.