This week marks World Immunization Week and this year’s theme is “Are you up-to-date?” For an increasing number of Maritime children, the answer is no.

More parents, like Dena Churchill, are choosing to opt out of routine childhood vaccinations.

Churchill is a Halifax-based chiropractor and the mother of two teenaged sons. As a healthcare provider, she gives careful consideration when making decisions about her family’s well-being.

“I remember going to my medical doctor and having a pile of books and a file full or research against vaccination and I said to her, ‘look, this is all of what I’ve read, trying to convince me not to vaccinate. Can you provide some research that would convince me to vaccinate?’” asked Churchill.

Ultimately, Churchill chose not to vaccinate her children.

“Well, I couldn’t find any research to show they worked,” said Churchill. “You know, if you look historically, a lot of these diseases were on a natural decline anyway, before vaccinations were even introduced. Not to mention the risks, death, neurological diseases, it just didn’t weigh out in a cost-benefit ratio.”

Churchill is not alone in her decision; a growing number of parents are opting out of getting their children vaccinated.

Dr. Scott Halperin, director of the clinical research unit of the Canadian Centre for Vaccinology at the IWK Health Centre, is concerned parents aren’t getting the right information about vaccines.

“Parents and people are making decisions about vaccines that may not necessarily be in their, or their children’s, best interest,” says Halperin. “They find a lot of information on the internet, a lot of that information isn’t very good information and it can be fairly confusing.”

Halperin says vaccines do come with a risk of side effects, although most are considered mild, such as a fever or rash. The most severe reaction is anaphylaxis, or an allergic reaction, and occurs in less than one in a million people.

“We look at those risks and that risk balance very carefully before we recommend a vaccine to an individual, or to a population,” says Halperin.

“Before a vaccine gets to the market, it goes through the most rigorous testing of any product, including, more so, than medications.”

Some parents are uneasy with the ingredients in vaccines while others believe they are linked to autism. Halperin maintains vaccines are safe, which is why unvaccinated children are the minority.

“But it’s a growing minority and it’s one that we’re concerned about, because it doesn’t have to get too large before it starts affecting the population in general,” says Halperin.

Churchill says she believes in a parent’s right to choose whether or not to vaccinate and she believes that decision should be an informed one. Still, she says she’s faced judgement for opting out.

“I think, automatically, when you step out of the paradigm of what’s recommended, or what society looks at as normal, you’re automatically sort of ostracized for that,” says Churchill.

She says keeping her family healthy remains a top priority and she will continue to give it her best shot, but without any needles.