Vancouver, BC – A North Vancouver mother shouldn’t have to worry every time her son goes to school—but she does—and is urging other parents to do their part to help.
You would never know it by looking at him, but 15-year-old Andrew Westerlund has a rare autoimmune disorder, has had a heart transplant, and is recovering from cancer. As a result of the transplant, he has to take anti-rejection drugs for the rest of his life that compromise his immune system, leaving him susceptible to complications and possibly death when exposed to illnesses such as whooping cough.
“All kids should feel safe going to school, it is an important part of their life,” says Andrew’s mom, Shannon Westerlund. “People don’t always realize that when their children are not immunized they become susceptible to dangerous diseases, potentially harmful to themselves and others. From riding the bus, to grocery shopping, to going to the gym, we are all in contact with people who have compromised immune systems every day and we don’t know who they are. But we owe it to these people to do everything we can to protect them.”
Many types of people are at risk of serious complications from vaccine-preventable diseases, such as the elderly, pregnant women, those with chronic health conditions, those with HIV/AIDS, and patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Andrew’s mother says, “He does what he can to protect himself, he washes his hands a lot. He tries to stay away from people who look sick, but people can be contagious before they even have symptoms and know they are sick. Andrew, and others with compromised immunity, can’t do it alone. They need help from everybody else.”
To help protect everyone, including vulnerable people like Andrew, VCH Public Health is asking parents with kids going to kindergarten in the fall to have their children immunized now, before school begins. Starting at age four all children should get two shots, in total, to protect against:
- chicken pox
- whooping cough.
While serious childhood diseases such as polio and diphtheria are becoming rarer due to routine childhood vaccination programs, according to VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar, there’s still cause for concern.
“As we saw with the recent measles cases in the Lower Mainland and across the U.S., these diseases are highly infectious and can spread quickly among those who aren’t vaccinated. It’s critical that parents have their kids immunized before they start kindergarten in the fall,” Dr Dawar says.
During kindergarten registration parents are asked to submit their child’s immunization record to their school. This information is used to offer children vaccines they may have missed earlier along with the kindergarten boosters. If someone at school contracts a vaccine-preventable infectious disease, children who are unprotected may be asked to stay home to be sure they won’t get sick and pass the infection on.
Vaccines can be obtained for free from family doctors or from public health nurses at VCH community health centres. A map of clinic dates and times is available at www.vch.ca/kindergarten-vaccines
VCH is responsible for the delivery of $3.4 billion in community, hospital and residential care to more than one million people in communities including Richmond, Vancouver, the North Shore, Sunshine Coast, Sea to Sky corridor, Powell River, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.
Photo attached: Andrew Westerlund
Tiffany Akins, Communications Leader
Vancouver Coastal Health