About 4,000 students in Waterloo Region have received letters warning they face suspension from school if they don't update their vaccination records.

The letters, sent by the Waterloo Region Public Health department, are part of a campaign to keep immunization records up to date.

"We sent out about 4,000 letters to secondary school students this year," said Linda Black, the manager of the Vaccine Preventable Disease Program with Waterloo Region Public Health.

Those letters are the second step in the process to get the records up to date.

"It’s not our goal to suspend students, in fact a very small percentage of the total population of students are ever suspended," said Black.

700 students missed class in 2012

Black says Waterloo Region Public Health sent a letter in September advising parents to send updated immunization records. A second round of letters went out about six weeks ago, warning of the impending suspension.

On May 1, a smaller list of students who still haven’t gotten their records updated will receive a suspension order, hand-delivered by their principal, telling them to update their records by May 6.

If the students’ records still aren’t updated, they’ll be suspended and turned away from classes on May 7.

"Last year we sent out around the same amount [4000 letters], and on suspension day, there were about 700 students that were issued suspension orders and by the end of that day there were about 200 that missed more than just that one day of school," said Black.

The suspension can last for up to 20 days or until the records are updated.

"It’s important for Public Health to collect and maintain up to date immunization records. In case there’s an outbreak in the schools we need to know who is immunized and who is at risk," said Black.

Black notes while the region is encouraging vaccinations, they are most interested in updated records. Some students choose to opt out of vaccinations based on religious or ethical grounds, but the region still wants to be made aware.

Out of date records risk disease outbreaks

Black says having up to date records is essential in helping the region prevent the spread of disease, and says the outbreak increases when coverage rates decline.

 "Once our children are through their primary series of immunizations when they’re babies, we often forget that there are boosters," said Black.

Black says they work closely with school boards on dates, and after reviewing records internally, they then decide when the suspension day will happen.

"Each year after suspension we meet with the school board and we meet with our staff to look at our current process to improve and refine what we’re doing," said Black.

Black says the region has principals hand deliver the letters to students in order to get them to take the suspensions seriously.

"Our numbers are improving," said Black.