Canada should introduce universal ‘boosters’ to prevent diseases in poorest nations

Canada plans to issue universal “booster shots” for infants and children younger than five to try to control vaccine-preventable diseases like measles.

The National Vaccine Program for children is billed as a “front-line” approach that protects children by providing “billions of vaccines” at a time. But while boosters to be provided by the public health system can go a long way to reducing the cost of vaccination, many experts agree that the best way to limit rates of diseases like measles and diphtheria is to work with developing countries to reduce prevalence of the diseases here.

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So far, Canada is only providing tests for children that have already received a life-saving shot. But experts argue that real change must come from a broader approach.

“They’re paying lip service to the idea of fighting preventable diseases around the world. But you need to add them up in order to do that,” said Dr Peter Hotez, a public health expert at Baylor College of Medicine. “It’s hard to do if you don’t have a plan.”

There are other, better ways to spread the good news. One is through the stockpiling of vaccines, which might, in theory, be easy to store, distributed and used while skipping the cost of booster shots. It’s also a much better way to combat the threat of vaccine-preventable diseases than vaccination-motivated one-offs.

“The whole reason why some people oppose vaccines is that they want to go back to a time where nobody was immunized,” Hotez said. “That doesn’t ever work.”

The worst one-off statistics around vaccination are from Africa, where measles is more common than ever, as government budgets are tight. In Nigeria, 120,000 people contracted measles in 2017 – 15 times the rate of the previous year.

“One of the primary reasons,” said Belinda Mayer, president of the International Vaccine Access Center at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, “is that we’re hearing the need is urgent and the problems are severe.”

One solution is vaccinating the most vulnerable: pregnant women and children under one year old. Vaccinating them is particularly important because the time they are most vulnerable to diseases is also the time that they are most susceptible to complications.

“That said, people are finding that the economy does not permit a ramp-up of immunization programs at the same pace that it took to immunize the entire population,” Mayer said.

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