British measles outbreak sparks backlash against health expulsions

by Selim Algar, Special to CNN Written by

After a measles outbreak broke out in Ontario, just across the water from Chicago, journalists in the United States have referred to the Canadian province as the “epicentre of measles” — a suggestion state health officials rebuked and raised concerns over.

A staggering 1,100 reported cases have been registered across Canada since June 1 — more than 100 are in Ontario alone.

The provincial government blamed an “unprecedented” shortage of vaccines for fueling the spike, but still opted to maintain an exemption for religiously-based but personal beliefs.

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Measles is a highly contagious, highly dangerous disease which needs four doses of the vaccine to be effective. After 99% coverage, it is considered “immunologically curable,” according to the CDC, and if it isn’t caught in time it can cause permanent health problems.

But in the UK and other Western countries, exemptions have become increasingly common in recent years, and Toronto city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam filed a motion condemning them.

“The public health community is not adequately prepared to deal with an outbreak of this nature, and had such an outbreak occurred in the United States we would have been unprepared,” Wong-Tam said in a statement.

While the city council is in the process of drafting a resolution and will be offering a platform to debate, no plans to restrict exemptions have yet been introduced in the UK.

Related content Toronto city councillor seeks motion condemning measles ‘exemption’

With public tensions running high in Ontario, there is growing concern the disease could resurface in the west coast state of Washington.

United States Centers for Disease Control data from the latest report show Washington state recorded 135 cases as of June 20 — 83 of those are in King County and 15 in Pierce County.

In response to the outbreak, the Canadian province has moved to tighten regulations surrounding unvaccinated children’s right to attend school.

Last week, Premier Doug Ford announced a sweeping overhaul of medical exemption policy that will remove exemptions for parents on religious grounds in Ontario’s Elementary and Secondary School Board.

Parents will have to provide proof their child’s illness is preventable by vaccines.

Ford also vowed to bring legislation into effect by next year to make vaccination mandatory for all school-aged children in Ontario.

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