The start of a new school year is usually filled with excitement and anticipation. But this year, the ongoing outbreak of whooping cough in the south zone is creating concern.
“Anytime you have a start-up, parents are often very anxious,” associate superintendent of Lethbridge School District 51 Morag Asquith said.
Alberta Health Services (AHS) took preemptive action from Aug. 21 to Aug. 31, administering 1,850 free booster doses of immunization to children between the ages of 10 and 12.
“We haven’t had any concerns that have been brought to our attention, so I think Alberta Health Services (in tandem with our school districts, both Lethbridge School District and Holy Spirit), are really working hard to keep our populations healthy,” Asquith said.
Still, the outbreak has now spread to 278 people in the region, with 653 cases reported this year province-wide.
Whooping cough is a bacterial infection easily spread by sneezing or coughing. The initial symptoms are often similar to a cold and in extreme cases, the infection can be fatal.
The southern Alberta whooping cough outbreak began in communities around Lethbridge and Fort Macleod with especially low immunization rates.
It’s prompted some parents to ask whether Alberta should become the next province to make vaccines mandatory for school children.
“I think they should implement them and I think that in the long run, it would save healthcare a lot of money to have to go back and re-do all these boosters,” parent Alanna Hudak said. “I definitely think it should be mandatory.”
“I do believe people are entitled to their own beliefs,” parent Joelyne Vannistelrooy said. “I think maybe it’s not the most intelligent decision not to vaccinate, but I respect people’s rights to make their own decisions.”
Some school officials say it would help limit the number of outbreaks.
“Mandatory immunizations, we’re seeing in three different provinces right now being very successful,” Asquith said. “That would be beneficial.”
But for now, Alberta Health says it will continue to focus on communication and education for parents.