Pandemic shutdowns interrupted more than the learning of Ontario’s students — tens of thousands are behind on their vaccinations and Toronto Public Health said it will soon be sending letters home to parents to resume the in-school clinics.
Public health agencies, like TPH, run clinics providing immunizations preventing meningitis, human papillomavirus (HPV) and hepatitis B. But due to the pandemic, those clinics haven’t been able to proceed, leading to a major vaccination gap.
Earlier this week, the province’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Kieran Moore acknowledged that catch-up clinics may not have been effective during the summer months, due to a lack of awareness or busy summer schedules.
Toronto Public Health said in the spring, it identified about 86,000 students in need of one or more doses of the main three vaccinations. Since then, TPH associate medical officer of health Dr. Vinita Dubey said the agency has gotten that number down to about 78,000 students.
“Some of them, based on their age, may actually need three doses, so this is going to take a few years to be able to get all of those students up to date,” she said.
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“We’ve seen that when we’re not in the schools, it’s really hard to get students vaccinated,” she added. “It’s hard for parents, it’s really hard to be able to have students access these vaccines.”
In September, TPH will be sending letters to parents to inform them of the resumption of in-class clinics.
“We know the literature supports that. It says giving vaccines in schools is actually one of the best ways to get life-saving vaccines into students’ arms,” said Dubey.
Even with the resumption of clinics offering those shots, there remains a massive backlog of Toronto students with outdated vaccination information for routine childhood vaccinations. Roughly 55 per cent of Toronto’s student population has an unknown vaccination status for shots protecting against illnesses like the mumps and polio, which are covered in Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act.
Dubey said it’s likely half of those numbers account for students in need of a shot, while the other half just need to report their status.
The province’s top doctor said this fall, he will be looking to all 34 public health units to provide updated plans to bridge the vaccination gap. That, Moore said, will include getting immunization clinics back in all of the province’s schools.