According to Canada’s 2015 Childhood National Immunization Coverage Survey, 89 percent of two-year-olds have received the measles vaccine, while just 77 percent have the recommended four doses for diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, and the varicella vaccine for chicken pox.

While these may seem like great figures, they are less than in other countries, and less than the Public Health Agency of Canada’s goal of 95 percent immunization, which is what the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends. In the UK, for example, the childhood immunization rate is 96 percent, and it’s 93 percent in both the U.S. and Australia. A UNICEF report ranked Canada 28 among 29 affluent nations for children between 12 and 23 months who received their recommended vaccinations. And we were one of only three countries with immunization rates lower than 90 percent.

Dr. Njoo is hesitant to compare other countries, because survey design is not always the same, meaning comparisons can sometimes be skewed. He does concede that it is critically important to increase our rate of vaccination, so we can eliminate and ultimately eradicate these diseases.

Some diseases can have devastating effects

Dr. Njoo notes that many people don’t get concerned about some of these diseases because younger generations have never seen the severe outcomes that they can cause. Before measles-containing vaccine became available in 1963, many thousands of measles cases (between 30,000 and 60,000 a year) were reported annually, and outbreaks occurred in two to five year cycles. With routine vaccination, the incidence of measles has declined by over 99% from an average incidence rate of 373 cases per 100,000 population in the pre-vaccine era (1950 to 1954)  to 0.8 cases per 100,000 population from 2011 to 2015. The reason? Vaccination. “These diseases can have serious consequences, including meningitis,” says Dr. Njoo. “Measles, for example, is such a contagious disease that we need high rates of vaccination so we can have what is called herd immunity, which helps prevent the disease from jumping from one person to another.”

There are a whole host of reasons why some individuals and parents are hesitant to get vaccinated, including myths questioning the safety of vaccines. “Of course vaccines are safe,” says Dr. Njoo. “Rigorous testing is done to ensure the safety of all vaccines administered in Canada. Without hesitation, I would encourage everyone, including children, to get vaccinated. In fact, as I always do, I will be getting my annual flu shot.”

Protect yourself and your loved ones

Dr. Njoo adds that by getting vaccinated, he can not only protect himself from getting sick but also protect his family and friends, some of whom may be vulnerable to the flu. There are some people, including infants and those with certain medical conditions, who can’t be vaccinated, which is why it’s even more important for others to be immunized.

“People should trust their health care providers and seek the best possible advice from them, so they can make an informed decision,” says Dr. Njoo. “It’s easy to get erroneous information about vaccines, especially from online sources, so I would encourage people to seek out trusted websites, such as the Public Health Agency of Canada or Immunize Canada, and talk with your doctor.”