Health officials are encouraging Saskatchewan residents to get immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly in light of recent measles outbreaks in Canada.
Prairie North Health Region has reported three probable measles cases in unimmunized children, in addition to one case in an unimmunized child reported on Friday.
Saskatchewan offers publicly-funded routine immunization programs for infants, pre-school and school children. Publicly-funded vaccine programs for people at high risk are also available. Since 2010, the province has been offering flu shots free of charge to Saskatchewan residents six months and older.
Two doses of measles vaccine are required for maximum protection. Measles vaccine is usually offered in combination with mumps, rubella and varicella in one vaccine at 12 months and again at 18 months.
In Saskatchewan, 89 per cent of children have received one dose of a measles vaccine by age two, but only 75 per cent have received a second dose by their second birthday.
"Saskatchewan's current childhood vaccination rate is not high enough to prevent outbreaks," said Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Saqib Shahab. "Parents need to ensure their children have received two doses of measles vaccine by age two. If their children are running behind schedule, now is the time to make an appointment with public health."
Dr. Shahab recommends that children wait until 12 months for their first measles vaccine. However, given Alberta's current outbreak, children from six to 12 months who are travelling to Calgary, Edmonton or central Alberta, or other parts of the world experiencing measles outbreaks, are able to get the measles vaccine earlier.
"The recent measles outbreaks in Canada and other countries underscore the importance of being immunized," said Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region Deputy Medical Health Officer Dr. Maurice Hennink. "Travellers can unknowingly bring measles into the country if they are not vaccinated. Such diseases can spread quickly, particularly in public places, if individuals are not protected by immunization."
Measles vaccination is particularly recommended for people who have recently arrived in Canada and do not have a history of receiving two doses of a measles-containing vaccine; people who are planning to travel overseas, particularly to countries with measles outbreaks; health care providers; and staff and students at daycare or education institutions.
Measles is a highly infectious, potentially serious disease that is easily transmitted through the air. Symptoms include high fever, cough and runny nose, followed by a rash.
"We strongly encourage parents to make sure their children's immunizations are up-to-date," said Saskatchewan's Deputy Chief Medical Health Officer Dr. Denise Werker. "Immunization is the most effective way to protect your family and yourself against flu, measles, and other vaccine-preventable diseases."
Saskatchewan has had 11 measles cases in 2014.