Thousands of students in Ottawa, Canada may have some unintended time off if they don’t make sure their vaccinations are up-to-date. More than 25,000 students in the city’s four public boards and private schools have been notified by Ottawa Public Health, The Ottawa Citizen notes. French elementary school students whose immunization records haven’t been updated face suspension beginning in January. Suspension notices will also be sent to students at other boards and private schools in the following weeks.
Worldwide, vaccine-preventable diseases are on the increase. Measles cases alone jumped by 30 percent last year so it’s understandable that school boards are cracking down. This has become a regular part of the school year for students since Ottawa Public Health has tightened vaccine surveillance policies, starting in 2015 with yearly reviews of all student records.
As part of Ontario law, routine immunizations against such diseases as measles, mumps, and rubella are mandatory for kids unless their parents are granted exemptions for religious, philosophical, or medical reasons.
The Citizen notes that Ottawa’s Public Health approach regarding immunizations appears disorganized, especially since 17 percent of students received notifications this fall. But public health officials say this is a system that works. The number of students with incomplete immunization records has dropped significantly over the past three years. And Ottawa students have vaccine rates that are above national and provincial averages.
And indeed, thanks to increased surveillance, the number of warning letters sent out by public health officials has dropped from 58,740 in 2015, to 25,781.
Those officials would like to see the annual list of students with incomplete records drop to 20,000 but that’s a tall order notes Laurette Dupuis, program manager of the immunization program at Ottawa Public Health. Every year about 8,000 new students enter the school system and many students already in that system face new vaccination requirements, so this means thousands of kids have incomplete records every year.
Dupuis added that about 85 percent of those who receive warnings update their records each year and avoid suspension. Even so, hundreds of kids are suspended yearly. In 2019, suspensions will take place between January 16 and February 28.
She added that the public health department has been receiving 300-500 online submissions daily updating student records. The situation is busy enough in fact, that catch-up clinics are completely booked. She is urging families to contact their health providers so that vaccines can be updated.
Earlier this year, in a report issued to Ottawa’s health board, Ottawa Public Health said one goal is to increase coverage in populations that are under-vaccinated. And health officials are making it easier for newcomers living in shelters to gain access.
And Ottawa Public Health is also reaching out to families who hesitate to vaccinate their kids. At least 4,800 students are exempted from one or more vaccines. Public health officials are working to better understand those who are hesitant to vaccinate as part of an effort to “promote immunization, increase knowledge about immunization and dispel myths about vaccines.”
In general, it’s not the vaccine-hesitant families who are receiving the notifications. Instead, it’s mainly those who have been lax about maintaining the records or those who have been delayed in getting students the necessary vaccines.
There’s also been a push to vaccinate students against HPV (Human Papilloma Virus). About 60 percent of students receive this vaccine, and that protects them against some cancer-causing viruses. Recent efforts have expanded offering the vaccine to boys and girls in Grade 7. However, under the province’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, the HPV vaccine isn’t mandatory.
But fortunately coverage for the vaccines that are mandatory — mumps, measles, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and pertussis — is on the up and up since the annual immunization review began. As a result, more than 93 percent of seven-year-olds have received measles vaccines, and more than 96 percent of 17-year-olds have been covered. Before the push to vaccinate, health officials really didn’t have an accurate record of how many kids were immunized. So this is definitely good news.
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