Alberta Party pledges mandatory vaccinations for school children if elected

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Alberta Party makes mandatory vaccinations an election campaign issue
WATCH ABOVE: In the wake of the measles outbreak in B.C. and the U.S., there's a new push for mandatory vaccinations here in Alberta. Fletcher Kent reports – Mar 7, 2019

The Alberta Party said, if elected to government this spring, it would require children to have all their vaccinations in order to attend publicly-funded schools.

“This is a public health issue, plain and simple,” Alberta Party leader Stephen Mandel said in a statement.

“Parents should be able to send their kids to school without fear they’ll contract serious illnesses such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and polio.”

READ MORE: ‘This is a serious disease’: Why we should worry that measles is making a comeback

The pre-election promise comes as several communities grapple with measles, including several cases in Vancouver and an outbreaks in Inuvik, Washington State and the Philippines.

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“At a time when measles outbreaks are rising throughout the world, and even occurring in Canada, it’s more important than ever that our children and communities are protected,” Mandel said.

The Alberta Party said in order to register their child to attend a publicly-funded school, parents would need to provide proof that the child’s immunizations are up-to-date under Alberta Health Services’ routine immunization schedule.

READ MORE: 3 Alberta kids in isolation after potentially being exposed to measles at airport

The requirement would apply to all elementary, junior high and senior high schools that receive public funding, including separate school boards and Charter schools.

Meanwhile, the Alberta Liberal Party wants parents who choose not to vaccinate their children to attend mandatory education sessions.

“Parents who do not vaccinate their children should be required to review the science,” leader David Khan said. “They should then have to sign a waiver recognizing those risks, and acknowledge that they will be required to withdraw their children temporarily from school if an outbreak occurs.”

Khan said banning kids for not being vaccinated is heavy-handed and harsh.

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“Many ‘anti-vaxxers’ rejection of vaccinations is rooted in a fear of government,” he said. “Banning these children from school only reinforces that skepticism and fear. It does not address the root cause of a lack of information and a lack of trust. It also further isolates these children from mainstream society.”

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The leaders of the NDP and the UCP do not share Mandel’s position on mandatory vaccinations.

Rachel Notley and Jason Kenney both said they think government must play a role in ensuring as many people as possible are vaccinated, however, they both said government shouldn’t overstep.

“It’s obviously a bit of a delicate situation because you have really important public health issues and you’ve got parental concerns,” said Notley.

“I think persuasion is the best way to deal with this,” Kenney said. “To exclude kids whose parents perhaps don’t understand the value of vaccination might have an unintended consequence.”

Currently, Ontario and New Brunswick have laws requiring students to have up-to-date vaccinations if they want to attend a public school, although parents can opt-out after attending an education session.

The B.C. government recently announced it would introduce a similar law and that it would take effect in time for the 2019-2020 school year.

READ MORE: B.C. planning on mandatory vaccination registration at schools by September, says health minister

A survey released last month found 70 per cent of Canadians believe in mandatory vaccinations for children entering school.

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READ MORE: Strong majority of Canadians support mandatory vaccinations for children entering school: poll

The Angus Reid Institute study found an even higher number of adults, 83 per cent, say they would vaccinate their children without hesitation. But 24 per cent say vaccinations should be a parent’s choice rather than mandatory. More than nine in 10 Canadians say they believe vaccines are effective.

A professor at the University of Alberta welcomes the mandatory vaccination discussion but feels it doesn’t go far enough.

Ubaka Ogbogu is a law professor who specializes in health issues. He has written a book on vaccinations in Ontario.

Ogbogu says he feels tying vaccinations to school attendance won’t work. Parents who don’t bother vaccinating will wait until their kids are school age before they do anything, he said, which is too late. Parents who philosophically oppose vaccinations could home school, he said. Neither situation improves provincial health outcomes.

Ogbogu says he feels everybody should be required to follow the recommended vaccination schedule. Failing to do so should be considered criminal.

“You can think of it as something similar to not feeding your child or not clothing them,” he said. “When that happens, the state has an interest in making sure that the child gets the basic necessities of life.”

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Immunizations not only protect children themselves against disease, but are also important for herd immunity.

LISTEN BELOW: Stephen Mandel joins Zack Hewitt to discuss the Alberta Party’s call to have all school students vaccinated.

Some people cannot be vaccinated — including infants under six months of age, people with certain underlying health conditions and those undergoing chemotherapy — meaning they must rely on high levels of immunity within their communities to prevent infection with the virus.

READ MORE: Pre-Alberta election government announcements raising questions over campaign

The Alberta Party said details around the implementation, such as medical exemptions and the list of required immunizations, would be developed “in consultation with Alberta’s medical community and with a view to models used in other jurisdictions.”

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–With files from Global News’ Fletcher Kent

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