WATCH ABOVE: Alan Carter looks into why Ontario’s vaccination rate is lower than the Canadian ideal.
TORONTO – Only 88 per cent of Ontario’s seven-year-olds are vaccinated, Eric Hoskins said Tuesday. He admitted that’s not good enough, but said he’s not willing to make vaccinations mandatory in the province.
Hoskins was questioned about Ontario’s vaccination policy, which requires it for entry to school but allows religious exceptions, after Toronto Public Health declared an outbreak of the virus Monday.
“Almost 96 per cent of them have been vaccinated against measles, so our efforts are working well but there’s still room to improve,” Hoskins said at a morning press conference.
“We’re talking about 4 cases which there’s been no proven link between them, so its’ not an epidemic. Right now its four isolated cases.”
Toronto Public Health announced Monday that four people, two children and two adults, had been diagnosed with the measles. None of them had both vaccinations needed to protect against the disease.
Ontarians can receive their first vaccination at 12 months of age, and the second between four and six years old.
Despite Toronto Public Health declaring an outbreak, Hoskins said Tuesday that people should not be worried and occasional measles infections aren’t unusual.
“To put in perspective, from January 2013 to march of last year, there were 11 cases [of measles],” Hoskins said.
“We do see small numbers of measles cases in the province, so I don’t think that parents in Toronto or elsewhere should be alarmed.”
Dr. Natasha Crowcroft, the chief of infectious diseases for Public Health Ontario, agrees.
“I think what we have at the moment is a really nice balance where people are encouraged to have the vaccine and they have to make an actual declaration if they’re not going to get their kids vaccinated, and they can be excluded from school if their kids are not vaccinated and there’s an outbreak,” she said in an interview Tuesday afternoon.
Herd immunity rates differ for many infectious diseases, Crowcroft said. The rate for measles is approximately 97 per cent, Crowcroft said.
Many Toronto schools don’t hit that number however, or the 95 per cent vaccination rate required to achieve herd immunity – the number at which, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada, there are enough people vaccinated to protect everyone.
According to data obtained by Global News, more than 3,000 students were suspended from schools within Toronto during the 2011-2012 school year for not having vaccination documentation or an exemption. Most returned to school with proof and fewer than two per cent received an exemption.
So what should the province do to get more kids vaccinated? Crowcroft thinks schools need to win the “hearts and minds” of kids so they know the importance of vaccines when they become parents.
“Start in schools and really talk to kids about the vaccines they receive so that when they come out of school they have a clear idea of what it’s about,” she said.