By Melissa Garro and Tom Grasso , CNN Toronto Written by CNN Canadian Surgeon
Talk about potentially harmful medical developments. Children will not need tetanus and diphtheria (Tdap) vaccines for the first time in 23 years next week, Canada’s chief medical officer of health said Sunday.
Dr. Theresa Tam said that while vaccinated young children will not be affected, the paucity of childhood vaccinations poses “an elevated risk of vaccine preventable vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.”
The decision is based on a paper published earlier this year by Canadian researchers showing a reduced ability of diphtheria toxin to reach the lungs in immunocompromised children, she said.
Tam said the paper changed the medical team’s view from requiring the vaccines to requiring a more precautionary approach, by not providing the vaccine because the measure wouldn’t be used.
“As we work to protect our children against serious infectious diseases, we must always remind ourselves of the responsibility we owe them,” she said.
Diphtheria is the leading cause of upper respiratory tract infection among children younger than 5 in Canada, with about 300 reported cases every year, according to the organization Public Health Ontario. Tetanus is the second-leading cause of these infections in young children, with about 250 reports annually, although the number of cases appears to be decreasing.
“We have had lots of outbreaks over the last five to 10 years, so it’s high risk,” said Canada’s chief public health officer, Dr. Gregory Taylor. “And now we have a paper that said the vaccine doesn’t work as well in these kids as we thought it did.”
In Canada, children younger than 6 can receive an annual series of tetanus vaccinations and diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis (whooping cough) vaccines without their parents’ consent. Teens and adults must get these immunizations at age 16.
Dozens of schools in the country have not required the vaccines, which are otherwise made available through routine health care. However, a rare but deadly vaccine-preventable illness called whooping cough has resulted in an intense crackdown on immunization policies, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying the disease, often airborne, can cause a convulsion that lasts for weeks and cause permanent disabilities.
Prior to Sunday’s announcement, 99% of diphtheria vaccines for children had been administered, according to Taylor. Because whooping cough vaccines are not administered until the age of 11 and 12, vaccinations done today are unlikely to save lives.
The possibility that tetanus and diphtheria vaccines would no longer be required at age 6 was met with alarm by parents and medical groups.
“My 6-year-old daughter had six doses of that vaccine, the Trivalent. It’s been done three times. She’s grown up since all that,” said Rebecca Sugarman, a mother of two from Toronto. “They say in their study that maybe three doses would be enough. I’ll probably be able to get her a full dose, at her most recent one.”
Toronto’s First Nursery, an independent group of preschools that have not made tetanus and diphtheria vaccinations mandatory, is pressing forward with its position to not require the shots. In a statement to CNN, a spokesperson said: “Toronto First believes the information presented by Dr. Tam does not sound persuasive. Toronto First prefers a plan to support the prevention of serious childhood infectious diseases and a plan for protecting their health.”
Across Canada, nearly 60% of all school-age children are vaccinated against pertussis, TB and tetanus, according to Public Health Ontario. About 95% are vaccinated against polio, measles, mumps and rubella (MMR), according to the Canadian Institute for Health Information.