The insanity of the cellphone-born vaccination gap

There are lots of science-y reasons to get vaccinated for shingles — because it can stop an infection from spreading and because it may prevent chronic pain and also may reduce your risk of dying. But what about all the other reasons?

As more people go viral with their posts about getting shots, Canadian public health officials are becoming increasingly frustrated with the soaring number of patients who don’t want to be vaccinated. Officials are calling for the country to shoot for upper limits for booster shots, to prevent people from getting shots for which they may not need them.

That’s a little extreme, of course. There are still some people (this writer included) who think that vaccines are not necessary and shouldn’t be required. And there are still people who fail to get their doses. (There are also people who don’t get shots because they’re afraid to.)

But if the effort at ramming out more shots is going to be stronger, it will probably have to start somewhere. That may sound easier said than done, considering that:

High doses of shots are usually needed to prevent the severe pain sometimes accompanied by vision changes and an uptick in the number of attacks. The needles are not simple. They make a lot of pain.

More important, the public health system is bursting at the seams. The number of people who get sick with communicable diseases that they contracted from the bottle also requires a significant amount of investment in education. For example, physicians who are working overtime to be ready to accept everyone with the flu with the flu shot will also be working overtime to make sure that a wide range of medicine — including the steroid that gives chicken pox, the painkiller, and the lung infection that blows you up, cough syrup — is administered without delay to get a range of illnesses that are not illness.

“This is an area of continued growing pains,” said Dr. Allan Law, chief of infectious diseases for Alberta Health Services, which oversees a huge area of the country that stretches from Edmonton to Calgary.

The vaccination gap has grown wider as Canadians become more tech-savvy. As smartphone users have become more unlikely to get shots, the numbers shot up across Canada. In New Brunswick, they’ve shot up nearly 20 times since 2006, according to Statistics Canada. In Ontario, it’s up 26 percent. In Nunavut, a vast area stretching across North America’s North Pole, it’s up more than 300 percent. In Alberta, the increase is 549 percent. In the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, they jumped 16 times.

But in reality, it’s not a huge jump. And in many of the other places that have seen a big jump, the shots are as popular as ever. In St. John’s, they’re 86 percent of all who get shots. In Alberta, 84 percent.

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In Australia, which has also tried to lower its vaccinations, there has been an increase in everyone from newborns to those age 18. It’s still not a lot of people. But overall, the annual number of patients is declining. As I reported in 2015, Australians aren’t going to Disney, but they are learning to play Pokémon Go.

In Canada, there’s just not much else. And of course, it’s just Canada. But it’s clear that this is not a question of quality but quantity.

“If we want to get on track to try to stop the virus, then people have to take this seriously,” Law said.

Because if you really want to stop the virus, you might need a lot more than a shot.

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