Be prepared for COVID-19 boosters this fall, MLHU says

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Local health officials advise parents to be on the lookout for COVID-19 booster information once students return to the classroom this fall.

While COVID-19 cases have decreased or remained stable nationally over the past few months, London’s top doctor expects case numbers to rise in the fall and winter.

Dr. Alex Summers, medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, tells Global News data from the southern hemisphere, which is wrapping up its winter season, gives reason to believe there will be an uptick in COVID-19 cases.

“In the southern hemisphere we continue to see new variants emerge and that’s happening here in Ontario and here in North America as well,” Summers said.

“What that means is we are going to have to continue to get those booster doses in order to maintain protection.”

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Last month, the health unit advised those five years and older to consider delaying any COVID-19 booster shots to the fall. The reasoning from the health unit was to maximize protection against the disease when it would be at its highest concentration.

Summers says the booster campaign will likely start in October and run through into November. The top doctor noted the COVID-19 booster campaign will take place at the same time the flu shot is made available, something he thinks people should get used to.

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“Before the pandemic, before COVID-19, people need to remember we still had to deal with a serious respiratory virus and that was the flu, but we downplayed it because we had seen it so often,” said Summers.

The medical officer of health tells Global News that going forward, people should be prepared to treat COVID-19 like the flu, where regular vaccines are needed in the fall. One upside, Summers says, is that when going to get the COVID-19 and flu shots, they can be done in one trip.

“You’ll be able to get both the flu vaccine and the COVID vaccine and you’ll be able to get those on the same day at the same time,” Summers said.

School vaccines

The issue of mandatory school vaccinations returned last school year when the MLHU resumed suspending elementary or high school students in January for not having up-to-date immunization records.

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The number of students that faced suspensions — over 40,000 — meant the health unit issued rolling suspensions between January and May. In the end, most students had their records updated in time, and 5,805 were suspended at some point in the 2022-23 school year.

Summers said at the time of the suspensions, the vast majority were for simply not having up-to-date information with the health unit, with another section being behind their vaccines due to the priority of COVID-19 clinics.

Ontario students between grades 1-12 are required to be either vaccinated or have a valid exemption for diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease and whooping cough. Kids born in 2010 or later must also have the chickenpox shot.

According to the health unit, there are around 12,000 students in the Middlesex-London region that should expect to receive letters this fall informing them of possible suspensions unless their immunization record is updated.

“Many of these will have become due for vaccines within the last year (they were not overdue during the last screening and suspension period), some will have moved in from other countries or areas and have not provided records yet, and many will be new junior kindergarten students who need to hand records in,” said a health unit spokesperson.

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