Addison, 7, cannot get live vaccines because she had a heart transplant when she was just 3.5 weeks old. (Elaine Yong)

‘How did we get here?’: B.C. mom of transplant recipient worries about measles outbreaks

Addison, 7, cannot get a live vaccine because she has a heart transplant

“Sometimes I think, how did we even get here? It was a disease that was eradicated. People were vaccinated and that was just what we did.”

Those are the thoughts consuming Elaine Yong’s mind in recent weeks, as a measles outbreak has infected nine people in Vancouver.

Yong’s daughter, Addison, received a heart transplant nearly eight years ago when she was just 3.5 weeks old.

As a result, she can’t get the live MMR – measles, mumps, rubella – vaccine, leaving her open to infection.

Now seven, Addison is a happy, healthy child at a Vancouver public school but recent measles scares make Yong worried.

“She got her heart transplant so young that she was never able to receive that vaccine,” said Yong.

Addison will be on anti-rejection drugs for her entire life, meaning, Yong said, she will never receive either the MMR or chicken pox vaccine.

“Her immune system is already compromised because she has to take those drugs so she doesn’t reject her heart,” Yong told Black Press Media.

“It makes me really angry and frightened.”

Addison, just 3.5 weeks old, after receiving a life-saving heart transplant. (Elaine Yong)

Addison and her family have had scares before but Yong said it’s become worse in recent times.

“This weekend, we have deliberately chosen to find activities that are outside and away from crowds of people,” Yong said.

“Measles is so extremely contagious that if she was exposed to it… she would be extremely vulnerable.”

In Vancouver Coastal Health regions, measles immunization rates are slightly above average at 86 per cent, with Fraser Health at 83 per cent, Northern Health at 85 per cent, Island Health at 80 per cent and Interior Health at just 76 per cent.

Figures from the BC Centre for Diseases Control show that province-wide, only 83 per cent of seven-year-olds have their measles vaccine.

That’s below the 90 per cent experts say is necessary to preserve “herd immunity,” or a base level of protections that keep people who cannot get vaccines safe.

That list, Yong points out, is long: transplant recipients like Addison, cancer patients, those infected with HIV/AIDS, are too young or otherwise have a weakened immune system.

READ MORE: Names keep adding to petition for mandatory vaccines in B.C.

READ MORE: Philippines says 136 people have died in measles outbreak

READ MORE: 53 cases of measles confirmed in southern Washington state

Yong, who has kept her daughter in public school, says she doesn’t understand why vaccinations are treated any differently than not bringing peanut butter sandwiches to schools for lunch.

“Why are parents who choose not to vaccinate allowed to send their kids to school? They could be spreading potentially deadly illness,” said Yong.

“If you want to go to public school, then you should do whatever it takes to protect society.”

She’s not sure how vaccinations have gotten to be so controversial in recent years but thinks social media is likely to blame.

“It’s an excellent way to spread misinformation,” Yong said.

“Back in the day when there was [a belief] that was ‘fringe’… it was harder for them to find each. Nowadays, no matter what you believe, whether it’s right or wrong, you can easily find people who believe the same thing as you.”


@katslepian

katya.slepian@bpdigital.ca

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