Making vaccines mandatory: how Sask.’s Health Ministry is handling the debate

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WATCH ABOVE: A cluster of whooping cough cases in Moose Jaw has health officials concerned about immunization rates – Sep 26, 2017

A cluster of whooping cough cases in Moose Jaw, Sask., has health officials concerned about immunization rates.

So far this year, the area has experienced more than 67 lab-confirmed cases of the potentially deadly and high contagious infection. This prompted health officials to go so far as to declare an outbreak as so many school-aged children fell ill.

READ MORE: Moose Jaw seeing a spike in cases of whooping cough

This resurgence in whooping cough also reignites the debate about whether vaccines should be mandatory as provincial health officials monitor very closely what other countries.

Germany is one example where new legislation has been introduced making it mandatory for all kindergarten classes to notify the German Health Authority if parents haven’t submitted proof of their child’s vaccine records.

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Making vaccines mandatory: how Sask.’s Health Ministry is handling the debate - image

In 2016, the state of South Australia went even further, where parents are required to vaccinate their children or they’re prohibited from going to kindergarten or other child care centres.

Any centres that don’t fully comply with the legislation by allowing a child that has not been fully vaccinated would face hefty fines.

READ MORE: Mumps outbreak raises issues over vaccination responsibility

Health officials say strong scientific-evidence proves vaccines work but should they be mandatory in Saskatchewan?

“Based on our current immunization program and our immunization rates, we are at the moment satisfied that our approach is working well for us and that is why we are not considering at this point mandatory immunizations,” Dr. Saqib Shahab, Saskatchewan’s chief medical health officer, said.

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That’s not to say ‘big brother’ isn’t watching or keeping track. As soon as an infant receives their first immunization at two-months-old, they are added to the province’s immunization registry.

According to Shahab, parents aren’t burdened with providing proof that their child is immunized or what series they’ve received because the province already has that information.

“Public Health works with schools to review the immunization records of all children when they start school in Grade 1 and any children who are behind are automatically sent reminders for them to be caught up,” Shahab added.

READ MORE: Alberta health-care workers continue to fall short of immunization goal

Your child’s records are also reviewed to ensure they are up-to-date on their vaccines in both Grade 6 and when they enter Grade 8.

“We hardly ever see a child who’s had no immunizations, we do sometimes see children who are a bit behind.”

Rich Pedroncelli / AP Photo, file

Parents with vaccination hesitation are encouraged to discuss their concerns and questions with Public Health.

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Shahab also admits that if immunization rates were to drastically drop, the province may reconsider if vaccines should be a requirement.

Countries where vaccines are now becoming mandatory have a coverage rate of 75 per cent, but would like to see those numbers surge to 95 per cent.

According to Shahab, immunization rates for school-age children in the province for measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) is in the 90 per cent range, if not higher.

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