Some routine vaccinations for school-aged children are on the decline in Alberta. That’s thanks in large part to postponements of the shots given in schools over the last two years of the pandemic.
“Routine school immunizations were delayed across the province in the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 school years due to the COVID-19 response, which included school closures and provision of COVID-19 vaccine to the general public,” said Alberta Health Services spokesperson Kerry Williamson.
“This included immunization of grade six students for HPV and HBV vaccine, grade nine students for Diphtheria-Tetanus-Pertussis (dTap) and MenC-ACYW (which protects against four types of Neisseria meningitis bacteria that cause meningococcal disease) and grade one students who were not up to date with their childhood immunizations.”
Provincial data for the Calgary zone shows immunization rates of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccines dropped from 86 per cent of kids with two doses by age seven in 2019 down to just shy of 78 per cent in 2021.
Infectious disease specialist Dr. Craig Jenne said that number is well below the coverage needed to prevent a measles outbreak — around 95 per cent.
“Unfortunately, through the pandemic we have seen our childhood vaccine rates drop back below the thresholds that are often required to prevent outbreaks of some communicable diseases,” Jenne said.
“There will be some urgency to get back to normal as quickly as we can.”
AHS said it’s working with schools across the province to get the vaccinations back on track following the unprecedented disruption.
“Public health has been working hard to catch up delayed students with zones providing additional catch-up clinics over the summer months,” Williamson said. “Public health is also working with schools to schedule routine school immunization rounds this school year, and will continue to catch up any delayed students.”
Schools across Calgary said they’re in contact with AHS to ensure the vaccinations get into the arms of students as soon as possible.
“AHS has informed us that nurses will be connecting with school principals to collaborate on developing a plan for the delivery of school immunizations for the 2022-23 school year,” Manique Werapitiya-Galle, communications specialist with the Calgary Catholic School District, said in a statement to Global News.
“AHS has also informed us that there are students who have not had their immunization records reviewed in the past three years and this review will be completed during the 2022-23 school year.”
Jenne noted the good news is, for most of these childhood vaccines it’s quite easy to get kids back on schedule.
“This isn’t a, ‘You have to get it this month or next month.’ There is some flexibility in here,” he said.
And if you’re worried about any delays for your child, Dr. Jenne said it’s best to reach out to your family physician to plan the next steps.
“The key is if your child is missing a vaccine to talk to not only your family health care provider, but perhaps your pediatrician and determine what schedule would be best to help get your child back on target,” he said.