Crunch time is getting closer and closer, and it may affect your child’s education as well as their health: as of March 27, elementary students without up-to-date immunization records will face suspension from school for up to 20 days.
The Region of Waterloo Public Health sends out three waves of letters annually to remind parents of the due date. Some 9,595 notices were sent in the fall of 2018, near the beginning of the school year. In February, 6,129 suspension orders were handed out.
Now with just under a week to go, manager of vaccine preventable diseases David Aoki is encouraging parents to either update the immunization record or if applicable, get an exemption.
“Really, the importance is to protect each parents’ child,” said Aoki. “We know vaccines are one of the best ways to preventing disease, especially the diseases that vaccine covers. But it’s also to protect the community.
“We call it herd immunity; the more people we can get protected, then the people that are vulnerable to getting really bad infections would then be protected so they can’t get the disease transmitted to them.”
The required vaccination protects against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, pertussis (whooping cough), and varicella (chickenpox), for children born in 2010 or later. The list is subject to change but has remained the same since 2016.
Exemptions are permitted for a medical reason or reasons of conscience or religion. More than 1,100 students faced suspension in the 2017/2018 school year in the region, a number Aoki noted at about average.
“We don’t want to suspend, we really don’t,” said Aoki. “It’s kind of the last resort for us. We usually are hovering at around 1,000 kids suspended. “Three years ago, we were a little under 1,000 – we had 931. Two years ago, we had 1,000, almost right on. And then last year we were at 1,100. So we’re always kind of in that ballpark.”
It could go far beyond a child’s education being adversely impacted; 22 cases of measles have been reported in Canada in 2019, part of a resurgence of the virus. It is also an issue globally, with 215 deaths in the Philippines after a measles outbreak in mid-February.
In light of this, the Public Health Officer of Canada, Dr. Theresa Tam, issued a public statement encouraging everyone to get their children vaccinated.
“As Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer, I am very concerned to see vaccine-preventable diseases, particularly those as serious and highly contagious as measles, making a comeback in Canada and around the globe,” said Tam. “From my perspective, even one child dying of measles is unacceptable.”
Measles is a highly contagious infectious disease, quickly spread through coughs or sneezes of those infected. The virus can live on surfaces much longer than other viruses, such as the flu or the common cold. Initial symptoms include a fever, cough, runny nose and inflamed eyes. It can be prevented with an MMR vaccine.
Tam noted the misinformation spread about vaccines that may cause some parents to be hesitant to moving forward with the vaccination process. For example, claims of the link between the MMR vaccines and autism were extensively investigated and found to be false.
“Seeds of doubt are often planted by misleading, or worse, entirely false information being spread in campaigns that target parents on social media and the internet,” said Tam. “It is no wonder some parents are confused and concerned.”
Two doses is the optimal amount to protect against the disease, according to Anna Maddison, a spokesperson for the Public Health Agency of Canada.
“Two doses of a measles-containing vaccine is the best protection against the disease,” said Maddison. “Two doses are 97-99 per cent effective in preventing the disease.”
Parents can contact their family physician or healthcare provider for immunization and immunization records. For those without a family physician, Public Health offers immunization clinics in Waterloo and Cambridge offices by appointment. To schedule an appointment, call 519-575-4400, ext. 5003.
“Keeping Canadians, especially our children, healthy and free from disease is our shared priority,” said Tam.