Australia must follow Canada’s lead and make its vaccines free

I was pleased to see the government announce Friday that its vaccine clinics in Britain would be offering the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot free to every child until the end of the year. This is a positive step and demonstrates a recognition of the potential for this to save thousands of lives.

This is an important step for Canada and comes after Conservative MP Ed Fast was critical of the Liberals for failing to further expand their shots in the world’s two largest economies. Specifically, Fast called for Canada to provide the vaccine to everyone from a Canadian child to a tourist who visits Britain.

There are no plans to expand the British offering beyond the 50 percent of children currently targeted. But as Canada’s health minister has noted: “We’re working towards making the vaccine free of charge for anybody traveling internationally.”

Canada is doing the right thing here. But my government and the government of Britain should do even more, and try to expand the availability of the vaccine even further. Not only would this be great for health workers, tourists and children — it would also be good for the economy. Canada already participates in a wide range of efforts, supported by the World Health Organization, to eradicate measles.

Measles is on the decline — and could be eradicated before 2050. Global reach and usage could make a massive difference in that progress.

This isn’t to suggest that Canada is standing in the way of vaccination. It is doing its part, in countries including Britain, Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Moreover, Canada leads all of North America in coverage among babies — over 95 percent. Only five Canadian provinces require parental consent for vaccination, whereas in Britain 25-30 percent do. And children across Canada are vaccinated against some, including polio and chickenpox, beyond what’s required.

So many reasons why the world is safer with more vaccination. But there is still room for improvement. Eliminating measles once and for all would be just one of many benefits.

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