As health officials in three Ontario cities are warning the public of confirmed cases of measles, doctors are pointing out how important vaccines are and how to minimize the risk of outbreaks in the future.

“There are few things in the history of health that have truly changed life for the better,” says Dr. Danielle Martin, vice president of medical affairs and health system solutions at Women’s College Hospital, to Kevin Newman Live. “One of them is separating our sewage and the other is using vaccines to prevent illnesses like measles.”

See our full interview with Martin in the above video.

Dr. Sydney Spiesel, a pediatrician in Connecticut and professor at Yale, describes it slightly differently in a recent blog for Slate.

“If you were to take all the pediatricians and stuff them in a barrel and fling them over Niagara Falls, the world would not be so badly off,” Spiesel writes. “The same cannot be said about vaccines: Getting rid of them would be a real disaster.”

The measles outbreak in Ontario comes almost three weeks after one in New York.

For Martin, there is nothing worse than seeing people die of illnesses that are completely preventable and she is concerned about the recent resurgence of these vaccine-preventable illnesses.

Martin is surprised people have taken a stance against vaccines, because they have shown to reduce mortality rates, but also because “we have no problem treating our patients with high-tech treatments.”

She says this is a symbol of how unappreciative people are about effective vaccines, which may be because we are too far removed from the days when people died frequently of these diseases.

Model and actress Jenny McCarthy is usually mentioned with leading the anti-vaccine movement after publicly stating that a vaccine caused her son’s autism. Former MTV star Kristin Cavallari jumped on the bandwagon. People often don’t get their children vaccinated because of fear, religious beliefs and complacency.

Now doctors like Spiesel are wondering if they should even treat children who aren’t vaccinated and some doctors are calling for a national vaccine registry. In addition to existing provincial databases, a national system would track Canadians including newcomers and those who have travelled to measles trouble spots.

“Here is Ottawa, we have a provincial data base [that tracks who has been immunized and when]. It’s very useful and a big step in the right direction,” says Dr. Rosamund Lewis, associate medical officer of health for Ottawa Public Health, to the Globe and Mail. She continued that “we need a national strategy.”

So why don’t we have a plan? Dr. Allison McGeer, an infectious disease expert at the University of Toronto says there are two reasons. First, this is a provincial responsibility, so “there is no mechanism by which to create something national,” she says to Kevin Newman Live. Secondly, there are issues of privacy and confidentiality in implementing a national registry. She says the debate is over whether vaccine data should be treated the same as medical data. McGeer argues it shouldn’t.

The national registry would streamline the flow of information when people move or lose their immunization cards. Doctors would be able to identify who hasn’t been vaccinated in a much faster way.

Dr. Martin is supportive of the idea of a national registry, but it doesn’t solve the problem of people choosing not to be vaccinated. To minimize the risk of outbreaks like this in the future, Dr. Martin suggests people need more education about the importance of being immunized.