Best Shot

What’s behind modern vaccine fear, and why it matters

In April 2011, the worst measles outbreak to hit North America in a decade ignited at a Quebec high school. It likely started when a staff member at L’école Marie-Rivier in Drummondville, a rural town 100 kilometres east of Montreal, picked up the virus on her way back from the Caribbean, waiting for her luggage at the airport amid thousands of travellers returning from spring break. She had been back on the job for three days before going to the emergency room with a high fever and the telltale rash that starts around the face and creeps downward. Measles spreads mainly from person to person but also travels on droplets in the air, making it highly contagious—particularly in the swarming halls of a school. For most people, measles is like a lingering itchy flu, but others can suffer from pneumonia or, less commonly, swelling in the brain. In developed countries, it is fatal in one to two cases out of 1,000. Doctors quickly isolated the staff member in intensive care, and a public health official notified the principal. Continue reading

Flirting With Disaster

The irresistible drama of TV plane crash recreations

IT WAS NOT A SINGLE HORRIBLE INCIDENT that triggered my fear of flying. It was a gradual accumulation of minor, uncomfortable episodes that have hardened, like plaque, into an unyielding anxiety. While working out of Yellowknife as a journalist, there were too many unsettling Arctic flights, bumping through thick weather, or onto crude gravel runways. There was an attempted landing through a thunderstorm in Montreal, when I pressed my face into the chest of my blessedly calm seatmate, who cradled me as we were tossed around inside black clouds before detouring to Ottawa. There was an overseas flight that made an emergency landing in Goose Bay, Newfoundland, after a chemical odour filled the cabin. (We later learned that a passenger had spat medicated mouthwash into the lavatory sink, and the fumes had seeped into the ventilation system.) Add to this that I come from a family of worriers, who have handed down an alarmist mentality with a default setting to worst case. Continue reading

Canada’s Most Unwanted

As infertility rates rise and foreign adoptions become more difficult, some 30,000 Canadian foster kids may have a better shot at finding a family

WHEN JEFF AND ELIZABETH FENNELLY applied to adopt a child in 2010, they were young (both twenty-nine) and, as far as they knew, fertile. Elizabeth had always wanted to adopt, and she didn’t necessarily want an infant. Growing up as the third of seven siblings, she was used to babies and felt no urge to revisit diapers. In Jeff’s case, adoption ran in his family. He was adopted as an infant, as was his father. “It’s not that I felt some sort of duty or obligation to adopt because I was,” he says. “We just felt we had the skill set to be able to help a child.” This is his way of saying that they are intelligent, loving, adaptable people who would make good parents. For a thirty-one-year-old, Jeff, a clerk for Statistics Canada, speaks with the buttoned-up air of someone older: crisp and clinical, but without sounding cold. Elizabeth, a legal assistant, is small, pert, and also beyond her years. She is the emotive one in the pair. Throughout the adoption process, she blogged with stark honesty about what she and Jeff wanted in a child. “We would adopt internationally, two little boys who wouldn’t have a home without us,” she had written confidently, and now, she will admit, naively. Continue reading

How Peer Pressure Makes Us Greener

It worked for smoking and seat belts; now social marketing can change your eco-habits, too.

ON A JUST-ABOVE FREEZING MORNING in Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, the residents of Collins Street emerge from their Victorian homes, lugging bags and bins to the curb. It’s garbage day, not normally cause for anxiety, but on this particular day in April 2007 people may be feeling a little exposed. For the first time, their week’s trash will be on display in newly mandated clear garbage bags. The worry is not so much that the neighbours will get a peek into the refuse of their private lives (residents are allowed a single opaque “privacy bag” for anything embarrassing), but that if a bag contains any trace of organics or recyclables, haulers will mark it with an orange sticker and leave it at the curb, branding its owner as the neighbourhood eco-boob. Continue reading