Thousands of London area students at risk of suspension for lack of childhood diseases vaccination – London

Thousands of London and Middlesex students remain set to be suspended due to not having submitted immunization records.

Last month, the Middlesex-London Health Unit began suspending students under their purview attending elementary or high school for not having up-to-date immunization records.

Suspensions are being done in six different cohorts between January and the end of May to space out the thousands without proper documentation.

Under the Ontario Immunization of Student Pupils Act, Grade 1-12 students are required have up to date immunization reporting for nine preventable diseases. If a student’s vaccination or a valid exemption is not recorded, the local health has the authority to issue school suspensions.

The diseases students must be immunized against are diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease and whooping cough. Kids born in 2010 or later are also required to have the chickenpox shot.

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Dr. Alex Summers, the medical officer of health for Middlesex-London, says he could not say how many students are currently suspended for lack of documentation because it is changing daily. After the first cohort was suspended on Jan. 18, only 500 of the 3,500 students issued suspension notices remained suspended just two days later.

“At the end of the day, very few kids actually end up being suspended,” said Summers.

Summers says the number of suspension notices issued for the February cohort is between 3,000 and 4,000.

“Most people don’t choose to not get vaccinated; they just don’t get around to it,” said Summers. “This process helps people get around to it.”

While there is ultimately the choice to be vaccinated or not, Summers says policies like the Ontario Immunization of Student Pupils Act help prevent disease outbreaks.

“Vaccine preventable diseases continue to be a risk in any community where vaccination rates aren’t high enough,” said Summers.

Primarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, compliance in immunization records dropped markedly.

Compared to the 2018-19 school year, compliance among seven-year-old students is down between two and 49 per cent depending on the vaccine. Among 17-year-olds, the rate has decreased between one and 45 per cent, depending on the vaccine.

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Summers says it is important to note those figures do not necessarily represent the number of students missing a required shot but rather the number without submitted records.

Before the final notice is issued a day in advance of the suspension, a student and their family would have received at least three warnings ahead of time. Letters were sent out to families last school year and in the fall, stating there was a lack of record for a child.

Official notices are given one month in advance to give families time to either obtain and submit records, get the student vaccinated or seek an exemption. Included in the final notice are the several ways families can obtain records or get immunized.

“We have clinics available to get vaccines into arms for kids that are that missing some,” Summers said.

Summers added the best place to start for obtaining up-to-date vaccination records is with a family doctor. Once the documents are in possession, the parent or guardian must send the information to the health unit.

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