Hundreds of Ottawa students face suspension if vaccination records not updated

OTTAWA — As many as 900 Ottawa high school students might currently be suspended for not providing proof of immunizations required under provincial legislation, says the city’s public-health unit.

Ottawa Public Health began to send 5,500 letters late last month to parents who hadn’t provided documentation to indicate that their children had received immunizations for diseases s such as rubella, measles and mumps. It was their third warning.

The letters give about a week for recipients to contact the health unit and provide the information, said Eric Leclair, head of health information co-ordination for Ottawa Public Health.

The Ottawa Catholic School Board is not commenting and is referring all questions to Ottawa Public Health.

READ MORE: Are Canadian kids undervaccinated?

Under the Immunization of School Pupils Act, the students face a suspension of 20 school days if proof isn’t given. Such letters have been sent out since the enactment of the legislation, Leclair said, and the current version of the Act dates back to 1990.

Story continues below advertisement

This year, letters were mailed a bit earlier than usual after school officials voiced concerns that later letters line up with exam periods — a bad time for suspensions, said Leclair.

Public-health officials don’t have a precise number of students currently suspended because the schools handle that and the feedback mechanism is slow, said Leclair.

Some schools also wait a few days before kicking in a suspension, though they’re required by law to follow the order, he said.

A final batch of 815 letters was just sent out. Without counting those, 890 students from previous batches remained on file with incomplete records and are “currently potentially suspended,” Leclair stated in an email Wednesday evening.

In most cases, parents scramble to get the student immunized or to dig up and provide an immunization record, he said.

Spokespeople with the Ottawa-Carleton District School Board and Ottawa Catholic School Board didn’t immediately provide any suspension numbers on Wednesday.

READ MORE: Fact file: Are students required to get vaccinated in Canada?

Exemptions can be obtained for medical, religious or philosophical reasons, while the immunizations can be obtained at family doctors’ offices or walk-in clinics.

The public-health unit doesn’t have enough resources to assess immunization records for all students in the city each year, and this year focused on 52,585 high school students, Leclair said.

Story continues below advertisement

Slightly fewer than 18,000 initial notification letters were sent in November and December, and a second letter was mailed to 8,685 people around February, Leclair said.

The final batch of the third-round letters was mailed on Wednesday and gives parents and students until next Wednesday before a suspension would kick in.

“To the parent or to the child that’s being suspended, it does seem harsh, but it’s something that’s been six, seven months in the making,” Leclair said.

“Most of the people that receive that third letter do contact us in time and the suspension is lifted.”