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Going away for spring break? Here's what B.C.'s Health Ministry says about measles warnings


B.C. residents heading out of town for spring break next month are being urged to confirm their measles vaccination status as outbreaks of the disease are being reported in other parts of the world.

B.C.'s Health Ministry echoed warnings issued by the Public Health Agency of Canada Friday, saying the upcoming travel season combined with a decline in protection against measles could increase local cases. Travellers are encouraged to plan ahead, as it takes a couple weeks to be fully protected after getting the vaccine. 

"I strongly advise everyone in Canada to be vaccinated with two doses of a measles vaccine, especially before travelling," Canada's Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam said in a statement.

"If needed, measles vaccination should optimally be given at least two weeks before departure, but there are still benefits if given less than two weeks before travelling."

B.C.'s Health Ministry confirmed with CTV News Vancouver that no cases of the measles have been reported in the province since 2019, when 31 were recorded. That year, several cases in the province were linked to travel from the Philippines and Vietnam, where large outbreaks were happening at the time. Other cases were linked to travel from the United States. Just under half of the 2019 cases were among youth aged 19 and younger.

PHAC said it's aware of six cases in the country so far this year, adding most of them "involve unvaccinated or under-vaccinated children who travelled internationally."

Globally, however, cases are on the rise. The World Health Organization reported a 79-per-cent increase in cases in 2023, compared to 2022. PHAC said there has been a "notable recent increase" in cases in Europe.

Protection against the measles

Adults and children who have received two doses of measles vaccine are almost 100 per cent protected against getting the disease, PHAC says. The federal agency says a 2021 National Immunization Coverage Survey shows 91.6 per cent of two-year-olds in Canada received at least one vaccine against measles, but only 79.2 per cent of seven-year-olds have received a second dose.

The first dose of measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine is usually given to babies at 12 to 15 months. A second dose is given to kids around the time they start school, usually between four to six years of age. But B.C.'s Health Ministry says children as young as six months can get their first dose, especially if they're travelling to a place where measles is more common.

Adults born before 1970 are generally assumed to have acquired immunity to measles because they were likely infected while the disease was endemic in Canada.

Meanwhile, adults born in or after 1970 likely received one dose of measles vaccine as a child. PHAC says it wasn't until 1996 that two doses became standard.

Anyone who doubts whether they got a second dose should talk to their health-care provider about getting a booster shot. Those who don't have a doctor can get a free vaccine from their local health unit, B.C.'s Health Ministry says.

With files from The Canadian Press Top Stories

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