Parents will be required to report the status of their children’s immunization records in the new school year.
Health Minister Adrian Dix announced on Friday a mandatory reporting system that will see parents submit to public health units updated records of what diseases their children have been immunized against.
The mandatory reporting program is the second phase of a provincial government program to increase vaccination rates among students following a resurgence of measles cases in B.C. and around the world. Dix said there have been 29 cases of measles in B.C. this year.
The first phase, called the measles immunization catch-up program, involved scouring hundreds of thousands of immunization records, sending letters to hundreds of thousands of families and arranging immunization clinics.
Dix said 33,000 students from kindergarten to Grade 12 have been immunized since the catch-up program began in April.
In Kamloops this year, 739 students have been vaccinated. Last year through June, only 59 students in Kamloops had been vaccinated.
“This is a significant issue,” he said, noting health authorities consider one case an outbreak.
“Based on the records reviewed so far by health authorities — amounting to over 566,000 — nearly 95 per cent of students have received one or two doses of vaccine,” he said.
“That shows the engagement, I think, and the willingness of parents to talk to us.
“And we want to have that discussion, not through Google searches on the Internet, but with people who understand public health engaging with parents who have real questions.
“The way to avoid these diseases, which exist in our world, and which are coming to B.C. whether we like it or not, is to be immunized. And that’s the case we have to make.”
He said mandatory reporting of vaccinations will help public health officials and school staff identify those who have not been immunized and those who are under-immunized, noting mandatory reporting increases public health’s ability to respond during an outbreak, as it allows health officials to quickly identify those who are not immunized or under-immunized.
Dix said most parents are already in compliance with the requirement and will not need to do anything further when the new school year starts in September.
Parents or guardians with an incomplete or missing record will be contacted by public health on how to provide their child’s immunization information if it is needed.
They will also receive information on upcoming school-based or community health clinics where their child can receive immunizations if they require them.
“For parents out there who aren’t sure, at this moment, whether their vaccinations are up to date, they also don’t need to worry because the public health system is going to reach out to them,” Education Minister Rob Fleming said.
“They don’t have to ask or request for records unless they are actually contacted by the health system.
Public health officials will review school enrolment records in late August and into October to match them against immunization records for kindergarten to Grade 12 students that are now in the provincial immunization registry.
Dix said the goal during the first year of the reporting requirement is to help parents get their children up to date on immunizations by the end of the school year.
Asked by KTW why the province has not followed the lead of states like New York, which requires the children be vaccinated if they are to attend school, Dix said the provincial government prefers the education approach in attempting to achieve a provincewide 95 per cent herd immunity rate, the point at which the population at large — even non-vaccinated people — are protected from a virus or bacteria.
In mid-June, lawmakers in New York removed religious beliefs from the list of accepted reasons to be exempted from vaccinations.
The only exemptions now allowed in the Empire State are medical-related, requiring documentation from state-certified doctor confirming a child has a specific health condition for which a vaccine may be harmful.
Dix said the mandatory reporting system was recommended during significant outbreaks in 2010 and 2014 by Dr. Perry Kendall, the then-provincial health officer, noting Ontario and other provinces use similar systems and have experienced success in increased vaccination numbers.
“We think that approach works, that that approach doesn’t make this a debate between the small, small percentage of people who oppose immunization for the reasons that they do and the rest of us,” Dix said.
“But it addresses the real problem, which is increasing the immunity of the population by engaging with those who are behind in their immunization or have questions.”
Dix said be believes his NDP government’s plan is the preferred path.
“One way is the path of court cases and promoting views that are not healthy for people and the other is the way we are going, which is to improve the public health of citizens.”
B.C.’s childhood immunization program includes coverage for myriad diseases, including measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, pertussis, polio, HPV, varicella, diphtheria, influenza, meningococcal disease and hepatitis.