Students in Haldimand and Norfolk with incomplete immunization records face suspension at the end of March.
Haldimand and Norfolk Health and Social Services staff discussed the importance of public health initiatives such as immunization programs for children during last week’s county board of health meeting.
Staff provided the board with an update on the Immunization of School Pupils (ISPA) Act and its suspension process.
The ISPA requires students in primary and secondary schools be immunized against diseases such as tetanus, polio, measles and mumps or have a valid exemption on file. Should an outbreak or risk of an outbreak occur, any child without immunization will be excluded from school. Any student who has an incomplete record as of March 28 will be suspended from school for up to 20 days.
“It is thanks to these vaccines that diseases that were the leading cause of death 100 years ago now cause less than five per cent of all deaths in Canada,” Sarah Titmus, the Haldimand Norfolk Health Unit’s program manager for infectious disease, told board members.
The health unit is required to collect, maintain and assess immunization records and review the records of those who have not had their shots.
The health unit completed its annual review of records for students ages 7 and 17 in December. About 1,800 notifications were mailed last month with immunization options for parents.
Titmus said the expansion of the program, which included the addition of a public health nurse in recent years, has allowed more files to be recorded.
“Ongoing immunization programs that ensure high coverage rates are needed to maintain low levels of vaccine-preventable diseases,” she said.
Last school year, 44 of the 47 elementary schools and all nine secondary schools in Haldimand and Norfolk were assessed. The three missing were private Mennonite schools for which student information uploads weren’t available.
In 2017-18, the compliance rate was 83 per cent for 17-year-olds compared to 88 per cent the previous year. The decrease, according to a report, can be attributed to the increase in the number of vaccines required (up from six to nine).
Titmus said that no suspension in the region has prevented a student from graduating.
“We loathe to suspend children from school and work diligently to avoid that situation,” Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, acting medical officer of health, told the board. “Going to school is a good thing for children.”
The 2019 Levy Supported Operating Budget includes $526,300 to support the Vaccine Preventable Diseases Team, Norfolk County will contribute just over $100,000 while Haldimand County will provide $70,000.