National public health data finds vaccine rates for kids fall short

OTTAWA — New data suggests vaccination rates among Canadian children are falling short.

The Public Health Agency of Canada says none of the country’s national vaccination goals were met in any of the age groups surveyed in 2017.

Dr. Theresa Tam says that means more kids need their shots if we’re going to reach sufficient community immunity to prevent disease and outbreaks.

While at least 95 per cent of two-year-olds should ideally be covered, researchers found just 75.8 per cent received the multidose vaccine for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus. Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island were the only provinces to cover more than 80 per cent, while Manitoba and Nunavut were below 70 per cent.

The study says 2.4 per cent of two-year-olds are estimated to be unvaccinated, with Atlantic Canada having the lowest unvaccinated rate at 1.3 per cent, while British Columbia had the highest at 3.9 per cent.

Among seven-year-olds, only girls vaccinated for rubella met the 95-per cent coverage goal at 95.8 per cent, versus 93.8 per cent for boys. That vaccine only requires one dose, compared to two doses for measles and mumps where the national rate was 87 per cent and 86.4 per cent, respectively.

Meanwhile, none of the three routine vaccines for adolescents met the national coverage goal of 90 per cent, although the Tdap booster came close at 89.3 per cent. Kids aged 14 and 17 get up to three routine vaccinations in school-based programs, depending on the jurisdiction, including for hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV).

The Public Health Agency of Canada routinely monitors childhood vaccination rates through the childhood National Immunization Coverage Survey, which began in 1994 and has been conducted approximately every two years.

Experts set vaccination goals in 2017, with the aim of reaching them by 2025.

Although the numbers fall short of ideal, Tuesday’s study said vaccination coverage among two- and seven-year-olds have not changed much in recent years.

The agency said an upcoming report will look at knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of Canadian parents regarding vaccination.

In other data, the survey found polio coverage for two-year-olds higher at 90.7 per cent, but Newfoundland and Labrador was the only province to reach the 95 per cent goal, at 96.9 per cent.

Other provinces and territories came close — including P.E.I. at 93.9 per cent, Nova Scotia at 93.5 per cent and the Yukon at 93.7 per cent. Coverage was lowest in British Columbia at 87.5 per cent, Manitoba at 85.6 per cent and Nunavut at 82.1 per cent.

Measles coverage for two-year-olds was 90.2 per cent but when doses administered to those under the recommended 12 months were excluded, coverage dropped to 87.6 per cent.

The lowest coverage for seven-year-olds involved five doses or more for diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus, where only 80.5 per cent of kids were covered.

In 14-year-olds, HPV coverage in girls increased to 83 per cent from 74.6 per cent, likely due to increased availability and awareness of this relatively new vaccine, said the study.

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