As the start of the school year fast approaches, B.C. families are being reminded of the extra homework they’ll be given if their school-age children aren’t vaccinated for measles.
The province’s mandatory immunization reporting program is set to launch in September, requiring parents of unvaccinated children to speak with public health staff on the first day of classes.
The program was launched in the midst of a global outbreak of measles that saw at least 30 reported cases in B.C. alone. A catch-up immunization program this past spring saw more than 30,000 schoolchildren get vaccinated for the infectious disease.
B.C. Education Minister Rob Fleming said Thursday he’s hopeful that number means most families won’t have to speak with health workers as they enter school on Tuesday.
“What we’re hoping is most of them will have nothing further to do, their records are complete and they’ve been shared with the school system and with the Ministry of Health,” Fleming said.
“That will allow us to focus in on families that have incomplete or missing records for their children around vaccinations so we can then refer them to available resources.”
WATCH (June 28, 2019): B.C. government introduces immunization registration
Under the reporting program, which came into effect July 1, immunization information is automatically added to a provincial registry as soon as a child is vaccinated by a public health nurse in B.C.
The registry is made available to health authorities who have been contacting families with incomplete or missing information — either because the vaccinations were performed by a physician, pharmacist or out of province, or because the child has not been immunized.
Schools began receiving immunization records in August and will be contacting families that still have incomplete records.
Public health officials will be reviewing school enrollment records into October to match them against immunization records, with the goal of getting all K-12 students immunized by the end of this school year.
What parents need to know
If parents already know their child’s immunization records are up-to-date, or if they haven’t been contacted by public health officials, they won’t have to do anything further.
Parents who don’t think their child’s records are complete, but know their child was vaccinated, can prepare for that call by contacting the physician or pharmacy where the child was vaccinated and request a copy of that record.
The same step should be taken if the vaccination was received out-of-province.
Parents can also contact public health officials themselves to check the immunization record of their child.
B.C.’s health authorities have information on their websites on where parents can take their children to get vaccinated. Those links can be found on the HealthLinkBC webpage with more information about the reporting program.
Fleming said public health staff who contact families with incomplete or missing records will also provide referrals to nearby clinics that offer vaccinations.
Children may be kept home
Fleming also pointed out that under the new regime, unvaccinated students will be kept home from school for up to 21 days in the event of a measles outbreak, which is the length of time in which symptoms can appear after exposure.
That doesn’t necessarily include parents who choose not to vaccinate their children for philosophical reasons, which Fleming said only represents a “very, very small percentage” of the population. But he said those children would have to be quarantined if an outbreak occurred.
WATCH (March 20, 2019): B.C. government to offer measles’ vaccines at schools
“What we are focused on is coordinating with the various agencies to create a new records system that will be accurate and up-to-date,” he said.
Health Minister Adrian Dix has said those parents who choose not to vaccinate would have to “go through a process” in order to successfully make their argument.
Two separate doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine are needed to provide immunity against the highly contagious airborne disease, the first dose at 12 months of age and the second usually between the ages of four and six.
Symptoms of the disease, which was eradicated in Canada in 1998, include fever, cough, runny nose and a rash that starts on the face and spreads to the chest.
—With files from Richard Zussman and the Canadian Press