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National Immunization Awareness Week

Vaccines offer best defense against infectious diseases like mumps

Photo of a hand with frostbitten fingers.
Photo of Dr. Bunmi Fatoye. DR. BUNMI FATOYE
Winnipeg Regional Health Authority
Published Friday, April 20, 2018

It is not unusual for Manitoba to go a couple of years without reporting a case of mumps.

In fact, provincial records show this province had zero cases in 2013 and 2014, and only seven in 2015.

But that changed in the fall of 2016. In September of that year, Manitoba reported one new case of mumps. By October, that number jumped to 44, and Manitoba suddenly found itself in the midst of a mumps outbreak.

Over the next few months, the number of cases kept rising, hitting 616 new cases in June 2017, before dropping off in recent months. As of March 2018, the total number of mumps cases reported during the outbreak was 1,817.    

While the mumps outbreak of 2016-17 was a relatively large event, it was not an isolated one. Manitoba has also experienced outbreaks of measles (nine cases in 2014) and pertussis, or whooping cough, (56 cases in 2015). 

So what can you do to protect you and your family from these and other infectious diseases?

The most effective defense is immunization. Many people may not realize that infectious diseases like mumps, measles and pertussis used to be much more prevalent than they are today, especially among young children. The situation started to change around the middle of the last century with the development of new vaccines.

A chart produced by Health Canada underscores the point. It shows that the number of cases for various infectious diseases in 2013 were about 93 to 99 per cent lower than they were at their height in one of the five years leading up to the introduction of vaccines. That is a remarkable success rate. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the development of these and other vaccines during the last 90 years has saved more lives than any other intervention in the history of medicine. 

But the question remains: if vaccines are so effective, why do we still have outbreaks of infectious disease?

There are, of course, many answers to that question. But one reason is that we continue to see a rise in the number of people in our society who have, for one reason or another, decided to become “fence sitters” when it comes to immunization. That is, they are refusing to become immunized against various diseases for a variety of reasons, including fear, indifference or lack of awareness. And, as fewer people choose to get immunized, it becomes easier for infectious diseases like mumps, measles and pertussis to emerge and spread.  

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to address this problem, largely through public education campaigns like National Immunization Awareness Week, which begins tomorrow.

To help mark the event, the Winnipeg Regional Heath Authority is reminding anyone who has questions about the effectiveness or safety of vaccines to contact their health-care provider for information.

In addition, people looking for information online can visit Immunize Canada’s website at The website offers numerous resources, including detailed information on various infectious diseases and a parent’s guide to immunization.

Whether these and other efforts will be enough to convince reluctant Canadians to get off the fence remains to be seen. The only thing we do know for sure is that this province will likely experience another outbreak of one infectious disease or another in the future.

When that happens, will you and your loved ones be protected?

The value of vaccines

Disease Highest number of cases a single year in one of five years prior to vaccine Numbers
in 2013
Mumps 43,671 94 99
Whooping Cough 19,878 1,275 93
Measles 61,370 83 99
Chickenpox 72,343 464 99
Diphtheria 9,010 0 100
Polio 5,384 0 100

Source: Health Canada

Dr. Bunmi Fatoye is a medical officer of health with the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority. This column was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press on Friday, April 20, 2018.

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