Vancouver vaccination rates vary greatly by neighbourhoods

For years, vaccines have been plagued with the myth of a false link between the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine and autism, but researchers at UBC have brought to light other factors that may be influencing parent’s choice to vaccinate their kids. 

Using data made available by Vancouver Coastal Health, Dr. Richard Carpiano, a sociology professor, and Dr. Julie Bettinger, a vaccine safety scientist, were able to examine vaccination rates in various schools across Metro Vancouver and found a pattern in school type, demographic and socioeconomic status (SES). 

In their study, the researchers used a variety of school types, comparing vaccination rates between public schools, private schools and religious schools. They also used Local Health Areas, geographic areas of BC, to determine level of affluence and whether students were English learners, speaking English at home predominantly or were First Nations. 

Comparing the percentage of children with up-to-date coverage across school types, Carpiano and Bettinger found that private, non-religious schools have the lowest rates of vaccination. Because private schools have high tuition costs, it was suggested that children attending private schools could be linked to a higher SES demographic. No conclusive evidence was available from the data collected to directly link high SES with low vaccine coverage. 

Socioeconomic status was further implicated in vaccination rates, as areas that are highly affluent and areas that are highly disadvantaged were both shown to have lower rates of vaccination coverage. Carpiano and Bettinger said cultural specific interventions may be necessary, as the cultural groups analyzed in the study were shown to differ independently from each other in vaccination coverage.

“Ultimately, there’s a lot of different reasons of why we might see the patterns that we did observe in terms of the rates being low in more disadvantaged areas as well as in much more affluent areas” said Carpiano. 

For many people, getting vaccinated is not an option, whether for medical or religious reasons, and they must rely on those who can be vaccinated for herd immunity. Herd immunity is the immunity and protection of a group as a whole from disease, achieved by having a high enough proportion of immune individuals in the group. If vaccination rates are too low, those who are unable to get vaccinated are put at risk. 

“A choice to vaccinate your child is a choice to protect the community,” said Carpiano. 

“As a parent, I do absolutely everything I can to protect my child,” said Carissa Boudreau, a Vancouver mother of three.

Louise Kim, a Vancouver mother, spoke to the effect that vaccinations can have on other kids in the community, but said that the discussion surrounding implementing vaccinations before school enrolment is “a hard one because there’s a moral part there too.”

Although their study lays the foundation of what could be attributing to vaccination coverage, both researchers spoke to the importance of further research to determine why there is a pattern of different rates of vaccination. 

“Once you had a better sense of why there’s a difference, you could potentially come up with a way to address that,” said Bettinger.