May 8, 2014 12:32 pm

Peel students risk suspension if vaccine record not up to date

Ontario is toughening up vaccine requirements for students to include meningococcal disease and whooping cough. Those who don't have the required shots risk suspension.

TORONTO – Close to 60,000 Peel Region students risk suspension if their vaccine records are not up to date as the province begins to implement tougher immunization requirements this fall.

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A report by Peel Public Health, to be presented at council this week, indicates students will need to be vaccinated for three additional diseases to attend school — pertussis (whooping cough), meningococcal disease and varicella (chickenpox).

That’s on top of existing requirements for tetanus, diphteria, polio and mumps immunization, which are all publicly funded.

Dr. Kathleen Dooling, an associate medical officer with Peel Public Health, says vaccination rates for meningitis in Peel are about 80 per cent of students.

“We think it represents about 18,000 students in the school system who are not up to date for their meningitis vaccine,” said Dooling. “Our plan in Peel is to really do our best to communicate these new requirements to students, their parents, and the schools and make sure they have every opportunity to get caught up on these vaccines that are free.”

Dooling says vaccines for whooping cough and chickenpox can be administered by a family physician, but a meningitis vaccine needs to be administered by Peel Public Health.

Under Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, students under the age of 18 must provide proof of either an up-to-date immunization record or a valid exemption.

The province says the bolstered vaccine program will help prevent the spread of preventable diseases in schools and communities.

Read More: Jenny McCarthy backtracking on anti-vaccination, but is it too late?

But the Peel Public Health report says the new requirements will put a strain on the region’s resources which they say will cost an estimated $200,000 over the 2014-2015 school year.

“The current funding model will not cover the projected Peel Public Health immunization costs resulting from the introduction of the new vaccines,” the report read.

The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has not yet confirmed provincial funding for the provision of catch-up doses to unimmunized students.

The report is urging council to have the costs absorbed “in the budget and request a draw from tax rate stabilization reserves if needed.”

Peel Region council plans to have a phased-in approach with full enforcement by the 2015-2016 school year.

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