A Yellowknife paediatric doctor says the number of parents hesitant to vaccinate their children has grown over the past 10 years, adding he largely blames social media.
Dr Sam Wong, a paediatrician and president-elect of the Canadian Paediatric Society, spoke as 52 public health nurses and family doctors from the NWT and Yukon undertook a workshop on so-called vaccine hesitancy.
The workshop took place as the Yellowknife and Tłı̨chǫ regions face an outbreak of pertussis, more commonly known as whooping cough.
As of Sunday the NWT government said there were 25 lab-confirmed cases and another five considered "epidemiologically linked" (meaning the patient may have had contact with infected people, or it is plausible the person has been infected).
Kami Kandola, the NWT's chief public health officer, said efforts would focus on protecting babies, pregnant women, and people who have impaired immune systems.
While whooping cough can at first present the same symptoms as a common cold, exposure to young babies without immunization can be fatal. Kandola said anyone with symptoms should remain at home and call their local health centre.
The workshop was planned before the outbreak was announced. However, the NWT's health department said 40 percent of people with confirmed cases of whooping cough had not received a vaccination for the infection, despite being old enough.
The health department is urging those not vaccinated against whooping cough to get the vaccine, which is free of charge in the NWT. To find out about your immunization status, you can call public health at (867) 767-9120.
"Since immunity from the pertussis vaccine may fade over time, an adolescent booster dose is offered in Grade 7 and every 10 years as an adult," the health department stated. "Pregnant women should get a pertussis-containing vaccine between 27-32 weeks of their pregnancy, regardless of their last dose. This will help prevent spreading pertussis to their baby once the baby is born."
The vaccine is safe and effective, the health department stated.
Wong said he had seen the occasional vaccine-hesitant parent at his practice. The issue was highlighted by the World Health Organization last year.
"The primary reason is that they are concerned about safety," Wong said. "Something they read on social media or ... somebody in the family has mentioned something to them, they've seen something on YouTube or whatever."
Wong said the suggestion that the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine causes autism keeps coming up, despite being debunked by several studies following the original claim (which was itself subsequently retracted).
A Danish study of more than half a million children over a decade-long span, published last year, found no increased autism risk.
Monday's workshop was staged by the Canadian Paediatric Society, which represents 3,600 doctors and other paediatric caregivers, and funded by the Public Health Agency of Canada.