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.
Andrew’s mother, Shannon, says, “He does what he can to protect himself, like by trying 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, children aged four and up, who are going to kindergarten in the fall, should be immunized now, before school starts. Immunizations are free and can be administered at family doctors’ offices or at VCH community health centres.
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, 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,” VCH Medical Health Officer Dr. Meena Dawar says.