Vaccines normally offered in school to Grade 7 students will instead be delivered at community clinics and doctors’ offices in parts of Ontario, meaning parents will have to make arrangements to ensure their children are immunized.
The Ministry of Health says local public health units, which are responsible for immunization programs including those in schools, are working to let residents know where they can access the vaccines.
Students in Grade 7 are typically given vaccines for Hepatitis B, Human Papilloma Virus and Meningococcal disease in school. Some of those shots require more than one dose.
Those programs have been disrupted due to COVID-19, which has seen thousands of students choose virtual lessons over in-person classes.
In Ottawa and Toronto — two regions experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases — public health officials say clinics will prioritize administering the flu vaccine this fall.
But they say vaccination clinics for students will be held in the community at a later date to replace the in-school programs.
“Given the exceptional circumstances, (Ottawa Public Health) has also invited family physicians to order school-aged vaccinations to their private practice to immunize their individual patients, which is not a typical accommodation,” the health unit said.
A series of so-called catch-up clinics were also held throughout the summer to help families stay on top of vaccinations, but those were paused once schools reopened, it said.
The school-based program typically reaches about 10,000 students in Ottawa each year, the unit said.
In Toronto, the HPV, Hepatitis B and Meningococcal disease vaccines will be available by appointment at clinics in the new year, though parents can also ask their health-care provider to administer it, public health officials said.
Reviews of students’ immunization records are also cancelled for the rest of the year, said Toronto’s associate medical officer of health, Dr. Vinita Dubey.
“Vaccines provide individuals with protection from non-COVID-19 diseases. Students visiting their health-care providers for scheduled or urgent visits should not delay vaccinations at this time,” Dubey said in an email.
Dr. Jennifer Blake, chief executive officer of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada, said it’s important for parents to ensure their children get all the necessary doses of the HPV vaccine despite the disruption in the school programs.
Ontario already vaccinates students later than other provinces, she said, noting the HPV vaccine may require a third dose if administered at a later age. The vaccine is the most important preventive measure against cervical cancer, she said.
“What we know from the worldwide experience is that the most effective programs for vaccination are the school-based programs. So anything that interferes with a school-based vaccination program can throw us off,” Blake said.
“It is something to consider as to whether or not in future years, it’s worth moving this program back to an earlier grade level so that you do have a little bit of a buffer in case something like this continues or happens again.”