Katie and her husband live in Vancouver, Canada. They have a toddler and a six month old baby and are spending their parental leave in the sunny land of Mexico. While they’ve been relaxing far away from home, measles has been cropping up in their home city. At least nine people are confirmed to have the virus. In Vancouver, only 83.1 percent of people are vaccinated against the measles, dipping far short of what is required for herd immunity in the community. Katie and her husband’s new baby was only one month old when the outbreak started and although they were lucky to get out of Canada, they’ll be returning in just about a month, and don’t know what they’ll do if the outbreak is ongoing.
My husband and I live in Vancouver, Canada. In August, we had our second baby. We have a two-and-a-half year old already. In Canada, you can take up to 18 months of parental leave, and you can split it between the two spouses. So we decided to take 12 months. I did the first six months, and my husband is doing the next six months. His six months started at the beginning of February, but I have my own business, so I can work from anywhere. We decided to take advantage of the fact that he was going to have some time off, to go and chase better weather. We decided it would be a good opportunity, while he was on parental leave, to go to Mexico. We’re finishing the rest of his parental leave in Vancouver. He goes back to work in early August.
The measles thing? That kind of came out of nowhere. I don’t remember this being something I was worried about when I had my older daughter. To be honest, I didn’t even realize that you couldn’t get your measles vaccination until a year. My kids have gotten all of their regular vaccines and I just followed my doctor’s path: you go in, you get the 2 month shots and the 6 month and the 9 month and the year, and there are a bunch of different shots each time, so I really wasn’t paying that much attention.
But, maybe a month after our infant was born, we got a measles alert in the news. There had been a guy they tracked who had measles. He had ridden the bus near our house and eaten at a restaurant really close to our house and that’s when it got on my radar. I was on maternity leave with my daughter and she was a month old and hadn’t had any vaccines yet. I was starting to think, We ride that bus every day. I’d taken her to that restaurant already. That’s when I was kind of like, okay. When does she actually get vaccinated for the measles?
And then I realized that it wasn’t until she was a year. And then just before we left to come to Mexico, I had started reading that there were these outbreaks along the Pacific Northwest, starting in Portland, moving up to Seattle and the surrounding areas.
That’s when I started to get nervous. Vancouver is so close to Seattle and Portland, we often go down there. When I was on maternity leave with my first daughter, even, we went down to Portland. That was when I started to pay more attention. And while we were in Mexico, I was horrified to find out that there’s just a full-on outbreak in Vancouver.
I think there are nine confirmed cases so far of measles. That’s just close to where we live. It’s concerning. I’m very active in the community, and my daughter and I were riding the bus everywhere, going to storytimes at the library, we were going to music classes. Out and about to different things. So I got really nervous because I knew I couldn’t be active in the community with my baby. And my husband is taking over the parental leave when we get home, but he’s the same way. He likes to go out.
Do we have to disengage from the community and have a mini-quarantine to keep our baby safe? That’s a negative side effect of this, besides people getting sick. A lot of people, because they’ll be really concerned, are going to pull back from the community, at a time when I think they might need it most — moms and dads on parental leave who might be feeling isolated anyway, and who really need that type of social interaction. They might start pulling back just because of that fear: How do I make sure my baby is safe until they are vaccinated?
I knew vaccine skepticism was something that was happening out in the world. I didn’t necessarily appreciate that it was something that was happening so close to home. You hear about these misinformation measures on Facebook, you hear about Jenny McCarthy, and that fake study that’s been debunked around the dangers of vaccines, but I thought it was mostly some smaller communities farther away from home that believed in the anti-vaxxing messaging. I was really surprised, I guess, to read that first report of that man. I’m sure he was an adult who had been traveling near us. Once that died down I thought it was obviously isolated. But now nine kids near us have contracted measles. It’s definitely made it feel closer to home and more urgent than it felt before.
Your second kid is a little bit different. You take a little bit more risks than you might with your first. But for people who are nervous anyway, and it’s their first child, and they are not sure exactly how to navigate this outbreak, they might to stay in. I think that could have some negative effects on the mental health of parents.
We got lucky. I’ve gone down some deep internet rabbit holes to figure out the best course of action on how to deal with this, and if I were at home, I’d definitely be consulting with my doctor.