On Friday, the day of a measles outbreak in Toronto, the city conducted mass vaccination events for three shifts of childcare workers and students in six of its schools. The idea is to inoculate as many children as possible while there are relatively few who are at risk, so the school staff can be tested during the next routine flu season to confirm that they’ve been vaccinated. All told, 68,000 people were taken to vaccination sites at 36 different locations over the course of three days.
Officials, including Mayor John Tory, say the outbreak, the second-largest in Canadian history, was entirely preventable. In addition to the 13 who have come down with measles so far, another 11 cases have been confirmed, bringing the total count to 22. According to the Toronto Star, only half of eligible infants under the age of six months were vaccinated in a recent measles vaccination campaign. This outbreak is in part because of the way there were delivered measles shots. That may have played a role in the way some schools have responded. A single doctor leading five of the six schools vaccinated on Friday, for example, noted to the Toronto Star that “children are generally skipping the shots.”
Many in the community believe vaccines have caused so many cases of autism, an argument often made by antivaxxers, that the shot should never be given to babies. Most doctors counter that these “autism conceptions” are a red herring. Measles vaccines and also are safe and effective, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Yilzen Chen, a 20-year-old PhD student and cook at a Toronto hospital, left her father’s home for a city restaurant on Friday as she was feeling sick. When asked if she was vaccinated, she said, “No, of course not. I don’t want the fake vaccine coming to my newborn baby.” Then she pressed her finger into her soot-stained eye and turned off the light. “Everyone’s making fun of us for not getting vaccinated,” she said, “but we’re real parents.”
Proenza, a 10-year-old girl, spent the day collecting takeout for her friends, who came from nearby schools. “There are a lot of personal choices about what we should and shouldn’t be vaccinated for,” she said. “I think people are being a bit overboard. It’s just not fair. My parents are vaccinating. I have a healthy immune system, too.”
She said she’d worked at an elementary school until recently, when she was offered a position at the Toronto Western Hospital, about four miles away. She said she was eager to start work at her new school, Cistercian College. However, she feared the outbreak might make it unsafe for her to return.
“I try to keep busy as much as possible,” she said. “I want to have fun. I don’t want to miss out on it.”