More than 41,000 letters have been sent to families in the region as the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) looks to catch up on student immunization records, an issue facing many of its counterparts across the province.
The focus is on immunizations required to attend school under Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, including vaccines for measles, mumps, polio and tetanus.
Tracey Gordon is the manager of the MLHU’s vaccine-preventable disease team and says the need to play catch-up stems from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve had two years now where we have not asked for immunization records, so typically this would be 6,000 letters a year, and with having to suspend everything over the last two years, we’re dealing with 41,000 letters,” Gordon said.
“As well, there likely has been a decrease in immunizations being given in the community with some health-care provider offices being shut down. As an example, even our health unit clinic, we did have to reduce the number of days that we were available to provide that as we were pushing our resources more to the pandemic.”
The number of letters does not equate to the number of students still in need of immunizations, Gordon said, as a portion of the recipients may have gotten their shots already, but haven’t reported it to the MLHU.
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For those who still need to be immunized, shots will be offered by local health-care providers, as well as at the MLHU’s mass vaccination clinics at the Western Fair District Agriplex in London and the Caradoc Community Centre in Mount Brydges.
“There was a bit of a decrease in COVID-19 vaccine demand from the public and so we’ve basically pivoted those resources into doing some of the screenings, sending some of the letters out and as well now vaccinating at the clinics,” Gordon added.
The campaign began in March, with the first round of letters being sent out in April. By the end of summer, the MLHU plans to do a review of the situation to see where things stand for catching up on immunization records.
“As we enter more into the normal school year going forward, we will start to send more letters and likely look at suspending students if we don’t receive information for (them) or if we’re not up to date with their immunizations, as we enter into January of the 2023 school year,” Gordon added.
— with files from The Canadian Press’ Holly Mckenzie-Sutter.