The fractious issue of childhood vaccinations is back in the news in Ottawa after health officials here recorded the first case of measles since 2011. (And it’s amazing how little the whole subject has changed since I was a new parent well over 20 years ago.)
The pro-science side decries those who refuse to vaccinate, whether the reason stems from complacency or opposition. The concept of community immunity (AKA “herd immunity”) is explained and re-explained. Conversely, those who question conventional medical wisdom are back to defending their views or their right to make that choice.
The whole tempest makes this an excellent time to introduce a new app to help track vaccinations. As reported by the CBC:
Ottawa Hospital researchers have developed a free app to help Canadians store, manage and access immunization information.
Dr. Kumanan Wilson of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute said the ImmunizeCA app will also alert users if there’s an issue in their area, such as the recent measles outbreak in Ottawa.
“So that would be in the outbreak section, they would see how close they are to the where the report is,” he said.
“They could see if their family is up to date. They may say, ‘Oh, time to get Johnny vaccinated. It’s time to get catch up the vaccine.’”
The app is privacy-protected and not accessible to any health agency.
The Ottawa Citizen details how Dr. Wilson came up with the app idea after a casual discussion with a neighbor in a park. He worked with an electrical engineering student, Cameron Bell, to come up with something better than the traditional shot card. According to the Citizen:
A prototype version of their app has been available for Ontario residents since 2012. As of this week, an improved version is available for residents across Canada at immunize.ca/app.
The national app, which is a collaboration between the Canadian Public Health Association, Immunize Canada and The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, not only helps people to manage their own health information — letting them know when and if they are due for immunization — but provides information about vaccines.
It also links to a U.S.-based mapping system that can inform the user of any vaccine-preventable outbreaks in their proximity. Although recent measles outbreaks have been widely publicized, Wilson noted that members of the public often aren’t aware when there are nearby outbreaks.
An Internet search reveals a fair number of apps with similar functions in the U.S.
When I was at that stage of parenting, the official form was a yellow shot card issued by the State of Hawaii. The new Canadian app described above sounds like a useful aide, but I can’t see that it would serve as proof of immunization. What is the format for vaccination record keeping where you live now?
Just to throw gas on this already-hot fire, I straddle both sides. I think many (most?) immunizations are reasonably safe. Statistically speaking, shots have saved innumerable lives. But I also mistrust the push to immunize against each and every disease imaginable, at the earliest possible age. It seems to me that can be taken too far.
When it comes to health, I would argue one size does not fit all. I’d even go one further and say science is great, but it is not infallible.