A half-century ago, the polio epidemic became a national tragedy as 160,000 Canadian children developed crippling and/or life-threatening complications from the disease.
The national vaccination campaign gave people the confidence to get immunized, and polio disappeared from Canada.
Then came measles. In 2015, measles outbreaks erupted in North America and the world with the most concerning outbreak in Canada happening in Metro Vancouver.
In a bid to stamp out measles, four major organizations collaborated to develop a pilot anti-measles vaccination program in the city of Toronto in 2016.
The Toronto Vaccination Action Network (TVAN) is a community group dedicated to facilitating acceptance of vaccination by facilitating “preventative education about the effects of vaccinations, creating prevention-only spaces for immunization awareness and promoting education and knowledge about the benefits of vaccinations.”
The organization’s programming promotes the use of pharmacaceutically effective (PMV) vaccines for children below the age of one year.
The group also supports birth control that prevents MMR-sensitive infections.
VP of programming for the group Sheena Patnode told CNN that Toronto’s efforts are aimed at making kids safe and healthy rather than stopping measles.
“We’re working to do both. We want to make sure that these kids are safe and vaccinated so we can eliminate vaccines as an issue,” Patnode said.
Unlike traditional vaccination campaigns, this one is intentionally designed to promote community acceptance and choice to ensure children are healthy rather than stop them from being vaccinated.
The operation is cost-neutral to the government. However, if Toronto has about 15,000 vaccinated children, it saves the government $750,000 in doctor’s appointments.
The program began in spring 2016 and is now aiming to extend it to Canada’s entire province.
The organization has been working with 25 Metro Vancouver schools, 10 schools in the Greater Toronto Area and dozens of community schools in Ottawa to bring the program to communities across the country.
No doctor’s appointments have been affected by the program, however the founders of TVAN do have concerns about officials’ ability to regulate the program.
According to Patnode, many health-care professionals and pharmaceutically trained therapists worry that support teams, specifically pediatricians, will be given the power to decide which children are vaccinated.
Once the program is fully expanded, the Vancouver Province will receive $50 million in federal funding. The province can use a portion of this funding to make part of the vaccination program open to non-medical professionals.