Toronto announces new measures against measles, after Ontario health minister rejects plan to make vaccine mandatory

TORONTO — Toronto Public Health and the Ontario Public Health Association announced Saturday they will ramp up their programs aimed at immunizing young children against measles and mumps after Ontario’s health minister refused to make the new shot mandatory.

The measles vaccine is offered to children as young as two months old and must be completed between age two and six, but the use of the vaccine is not mandated in Ontario, according to Canada’s National Capital Commission, which regulates immunization programs.

“I can’t enforce a mandate. Therefore we’re going to go forward, we’re going to ramp up our activities,” Toronto Public Health executive director Dr. Heather Mitchell said.

Mitchell joined their statement with Dr. Aylwin Jacob, executive director of the Ontario Public Health Association.

Measles has spread across Canada in recent years. In 2016, it reached a Canadian record of 383 cases in a province of just 6.5 million residents, according to the Health Department.

Last week, Ontario Health Minister Eric Hoskins said it is not the government’s responsibility to force the vaccination on residents, a position he reiterated on Friday, the CBC reported.

“We’re not doing this to create a culture of fear. This is not in any way an attack on the science of vaccination,” he said.

Hoskins said his position isn’t a decision that will sway people.

“I don’t think it is something that anybody can change, no matter what you tell them. The data are the data,” he said.

Measles is highly contagious, especially among unvaccinated adults and among people who aren’t immunized. Health officials say more than 95 percent of Canadians should be vaccinated against the disease in order to avoid getting it, but that number varies depending on a person’s ability to take a shot. For measles, that’s anywhere from 80 to 95 percent.

Any unvaccinated person who contracts measles must be isolated from others for 21 days. The vaccine is not an ideal vaccine because it can cause severe illness in vaccinated people as well.

The Ontario Public Health Association sent letters to 149 elected officials to spread the word about the risks of not vaccinating, NCCC spokeswoman Janice Turner said Friday. Some of those members are members of Parliament and Liberal cabinet ministers. The letter lists former health ministers, most of whom are Liberals, but it also includes the leader of the Ontario Conservatives, Doug Ford.

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