Unvaccinated students get suspension threat

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Parents of school-age children born in 2003 and 2012 will want to double-check their vaccination records.

The Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit has youths seven and 17 years of age under consideration this spring for suspension for incomplete immunization records.

In a report to the Haldimand-Norfolk Board of Health, the health unit says it mailed 1,585 notices of incomplete records to households in Norfolk and Haldimand in December.

Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Norfolk and Haldimand’s Medical Officer of Health, may serve a 20-day school suspension to students with incomplete records anytime after March 25.

“Immunizations save lives,” Sarah Titmus, the local health unit’s infectious disease program co-ordinator, says in a report.

“They prevent serious illness and are recognized as one of the most effective public health interventions of modern times. Immunizations provide protection by helping the body make its own defences – or antibodies – against certain diseases.

“Thanks to vaccines, infectious diseases that were the leading cause of death 100 years ago are now the cause of less than five per cent of all deaths in Canada.”

The health unit is seeking evidence that the age groups in question are protected against measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, polio, meningitis and chicken pox.

As part of its due diligence, the health unit assessed the immunization status of 1,075 high school students in the two counties and 1,226 students in area elementary schools.

Regarding the elementary sample, 91 per cent were vaccinated against measles, 91 per cent against mumps, 91 per cent against rubella, 95 per cent against diphtheria, 95 per cent against whooping cough, 95 per cent against tetanus and 95 per cent against polio.

Records for the secondary sample revealed that 89 per cent were protected against measles, 89 per cent against mumps, 89 per cent against rubella, 92 per cent against diphtheria, 92 per cent against pertussis, 92 per cent against tetanus and 92 per cent against polio.

The report doesn’t provide corresponding percentages for meningitis and chicken pox for either age group.

In 2018-2019, the health unit’s assessment process involved 44 of the 47 elementary schools in Haldimand and Norfolk and all nine of the counties’ high schools. The three elementary schools not assessed are independent, faith-based schools for which records are not available.

“Across the two age groups, the percentage of children who were covered by a religious or philosophical exemption was estimated at approximately two to four per cent across the diseases of interest,” Titmus said.

“During this assessment period, there were no children covered by a medical exemption in these cohorts.”