Toronto had the highest vaccination rate in the nation, but other U.S. cities weren’t far behind

Toronto’s government had the highest percentage of employees properly vaccinated against measles and influenza among those in most major U.S. cities, a study released Friday finds.

The City of Toronto had 88 per cent of employees fully vaccinated for measles, while 88 per cent were fully immunized against pertussis, the cough and respiratory infection that causes so many more severe complications than measles.

Toronto’s rate is one of the highest observed among the seven cities surveyed in an analysis of government data by Healtheatium.org, an independent online portal for data analysis and public policy. The review reviewed vaccination rates by city and county government agencies in a handful of cities. None of the cities surveyed was wealthier than Toronto.

The rates varied from 60 per cent to 99 per cent, the study found. The study further found that employee vaccination rates tend to align with other civic agencies, so staff are frequently vaccinated in the workplace.

Vaccination rates among government employees appear to be high, but this may reflect a high level of social trust in public health officials, the study finds. In large swaths of Canada, even some who are in the country illegally but are fully vaccinated against measles are in the “better off” group, whereas some openly have measles without bothering to seek protection.

“Everyone seems to know that the city of Toronto doesn’t screw around on vaccination — they’re very good at it,” said Allison Rogers, a doctor who worked with Healtheatium on the study.

“If the federal government and provincial government had not changed their policies, I would not be writing about the Toronto vaccination rate,” Rogers said.

The Vaccine Alliance, an advocacy group, praised Toronto’s rate in a statement. “Toronto is among a small group of cities whose government has prioritized vaccination,” the group said.

The city that had the lowest rate of vaccinations — 22 per cent — was for Davis County, Utah, which is home to two of the three outbreaks of measles that have hit the United States over the past two years.

The study by Healtheatium also examined vaccination rates at schools, universities and government agencies. In some of the biggest cities surveyed, including Chicago, Dallas and Washington, at least 90 per cent of employees were fully vaccinated against measles, which federal health officials say is “unavoidable for infants, children under age 5 years and adults with weakened immune systems.”

In Washington, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, who is responsible for Health and Human Services, said in December that he was doubling the priority of measles vaccinations. He also said that his administration would eventually reallocate funds to states to ensure that schools offer mandatory vaccinations for students, while the federal government would help pay for new vaccinations as they are developed.

Lamar Alexander, a Republican senator from Tennessee, suggested at the time that the funding gap could create difficulties for schools, since in many cases public money cannot be used to pay for vaccines, even when there is an order from a doctor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that states receive most of their money for vaccinations from drug companies or Medicaid.

Federal data shows that almost half of a quarter of 13-year-olds in the U.S. do not have been fully vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. About a third of students in K-12 schools do not receive the required vaccine, some for philosophical reasons.

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