What you need to know
If you choose not to vaccinate your child, or to delay vaccines, here's what you need to know:
Vaccine-preventable diseases can be serious and even deadly
It is strongly advised that children get all of the recommended vaccines and that they get them on time.
Please discuss your concerns with your child’s doctor or public health nurse. A decision not to vaccinate not only puts your child at risk but also your family and others.
Vaccines prevent diseases that can cause serious illness, long-term disability, and even death. Many of these diseases have no treatment or cure, and vaccines are the only protection. Below are some of the serious effects of vaccine-preventable diseases:
- Pertussis can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage, and death
- Meningococcal infection can cause meningitis, an infection of the lining that covers the brain, and septicemia, an infection of the blood
- Mumps can cause permanent deafness
- Measles can cause swelling of the brain, which can lead to brain damage and death
- Polio can cause paralysis
Vaccine-preventable diseases are still a threat
Some parents choose not to vaccinate their children because they believe vaccine-preventable diseases are no longer a threat. However, several of these diseases, such as pertussis, meningococcal disease, and mumps, still occur in small numbers in Canada. Others, such as measles and polio, are common in other countries. They are only a plane ride away. Without protection from vaccines, these diseases would spread quickly here, and outbreaks would occur.
You cannot always avoid vaccine-preventable diseases
Any unvaccinated child is at risk of getting a vaccine-preventable disease. Even if you minimize contact with people who are ill, you may not be able to prevent your child from coming in contact with a vaccine-preventable disease. For example:
- An unvaccinated child can get measles by simply breathing the air in a room where someone with measles has been.
- Tetanus is caused by a bacteria found in dirt, dust, and soil. It is not spread from person to person. A child can get tetanus if they have a cut or scrape on their skin that comes in contact with dirt, dust, or soil containing the bacteria. Any child not vaccinated against tetanus is at risk.
- Many people who are infected do not have any symptoms, but may still infect your child. It’s impossible to tell who is contagious.
Herd immunity does not guarantee protection for unvaccinated children
Some parents who decide not to vaccinate may believe that herd immunity will protect their children. Herd immunity does not guarantee protection for unvaccinated children. If you live in an area with low immunization rates, your child will not be protected through herd immunity. Further, herd immunity does not protect against all vaccine-preventable diseases (for example, tetanus).
Unvaccinated children are more likely to get a vaccine-preventable disease than vaccinated children
Unvaccinated children have a much greater chance of getting a vaccine-preventable disease than children who have been vaccinated. This is the case even in countries with high vaccination rates.
- Measles outbreak in the Fraser Valley: In 2014, the Fraser Valley experienced the largest measles outbreak in B.C. in almost 30 years. It was thought to be caused by a traveller from the Netherlands, where another outbreak was occurring. Low immunization rates in one community allowed measles to spread quickly, resulting in over 400 cases of measles.
Not vaccinating your child also puts your family and others at risk
When you choose not to vaccinate your child, you not only put your child at risk but also your family and others. Those most at risk include:
- Newborn babies who are too young to get vaccinated.
- People with weakened immune systems, for example, those receiving treatment for cancer.
- People with chronic health conditions.
Communities depend on high vaccination rates to keep vaccine-preventable diseases from spreading. The more people who are vaccinated, the lower the risk for everyone.
If you refuse vaccines for your child, you may be contacted and offered the vaccines again
If you refuse vaccines for your child, the refusal will be noted in your child’s chart. However, your health care provider may contact you to offer refused vaccines again in the future. You may also receive a phone call or a card in the mail from your local health unit, reminding you that your child is due for vaccines. This is because sometimes parents change their minds and may decide to vaccinate their children. Reasons for this include changes in a child’s health, an increase in the risk of infection, changes in beliefs, new information that a parent did not have before, and changes in vaccine recommendations. When your health care provider contacts you, it also gives you the chance to discuss any new information you may have and to ask more questions.
At a minimum, your health care provider may contact you to offer refused vaccines again at school entry and when your child is 10 and 13 years of age. You will also be contacted and offered vaccines for your child if they are unvaccinated, and there is a vaccine-preventable disease outbreak at your child’s school. If there is an outbreak at your child’s school and your child is unprotected, your child may be asked to stay home until it is safe to return. They may miss several days or weeks of school. This is to protect your child and their classmates.
Mature minors are given the chance to consent to vaccines on their own, even if the parent has refused. You can read more about mature minor consent here.