Written by by Maude Pollard, CNN
Once the fashion capital of Canada, Toronto’s cultural landscape is undergoing a metamorphosis that seems to show no signs of slowing down. Now in its 23rd year, the highly visual “Vaccinate Toronto” campaign depicts strangers coming together to support the city’s campaign against measles.
The campaign — rolled out in 2014 — highlights the widespread vaccination campaigns which have curbed the number of cases of the viral disease in the city. It uses photographs of strangers hugging, sharing stories, comparing scarves and forgoing tea so as to vaccinate all Canada’s children.
From the 591 participants included in this year’s digital campaign, which includes both large-scale and intimate exposure to travelers, 350 lives were saved thanks to one vaccination.
Then-patient Christopher Boyers, a resident of Toronto’s Junction District who was not vaccinated for measles, is seen playing with hospital puppies in this shot taken by Darcie Seippen with Camping World
‘To heal healthier’
At the heart of the campaign is the concept of ‘Let’s Vaccinate,’ which goes well beyond ‘Got your back!’
Through an app, the public is able to see all cases of measles in Canada and have instant access to a detailed breakdown of the steps they need to take if they’re traveling outside the country. Individuals can “vacate their personal space” while reporting their health status, but given the fact that vaccines can cause side effects like temporary cognitive dysfunction, the focus in this campaign is more on securing health peace than safety.
“You don’t know if you’re in a public place where there are other people traveling,” Dr. Marilyn Kaye, Chief Medical Officer of Toronto Public Health, tells CNN. “You don’t know if there are kids in the crowd that have contagious diseases, or whether there are other people in that crowd that can spread diseases to you, so we want to make sure everybody in that space is vaccinated.”
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), almost all young children from one to 23 months old are recommended to receive a series of shots against measles, mumps and rubella, but sadly in Canada, not all parents are on board. A more than five-fold rise in measles cases in 2018 prompted government authorities to campaign against the virus — a seemingly futile endeavor, given the stubborn obstinacy of Canadian parents.
But Kaye maintains that without government-run vaccination programs, there would be an alarming number of deaths each year.
Toronto has seen its fair share of harrowing vaccine campaigns, with one recalled incident in 2012 showing a man lying in a hospital bed, tied to a ventilator. The hospital confirmed the man had pneumonia, but instead of an antidote, his parents chose to place a sign over his hospital bed asking for funds for his funeral.
‘Healthy people get sick’
As a precaution, the campaign encourages those living with or visiting Canada to complete their first MMR vaccination before leaving the country, and follow up with a booster shot during their stay. “People are entitled to decide whether or not they want to vaccinate,” says Kaye. “But our goal is to educate and help people make a conscious decision.”
Concerned about her children’s safety, Joleen Plouffe decided to hire a team of media experts to break down Toronto’s vaccination rates. As it stands, Toronto is the only major city in North America where a growing number of unvaccinated children reside. “In the period of October 2017, we saw an unprecedented spike of outbreaks of whooping cough in infants across the country,” says Kaye. “And that’s where the conversation is really happening right now, to talk about the increased risk of this highly contagious disease.”
Even with high vaccination rates, the city still suffers from outbreaks of diseases like mumps, whooping cough and rubella. ‘We’re still working to make vaccinations available to communities who may have been unable to pay for them due to finances,” says Kaye.
Those seeking to deliver upon the campaign’s central message of educating others on the importance of vaccinations can use the campaign’s app and online dashboard to check their individual immunization status and explore the various campaigns available. But Kaye stresses that parents with more limited budgets should take things a step further.