Manitoba schools consider lobbying province to make vaccines mandatory
Manitoba wants to increase vaccination rates but government plans to maintain voluntary program
Manitoba school boards are considering lobbying the province to make vaccinations mandatory for school-aged children as they are in some other Canadian jurisdictions.
The Manitoba School Boards Association will consider a motion, put forward by the Brandon School Division, on Friday that would have the group lobby government to make inoculations mandatory for nine illnesses, including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease (meningitis), pertussis (whooping cough) and varicella (chicken pox).
The motion includes an exemption for children and youth who cannot get vaccinated because of an allergy or other medical condition.
"We think that there is a public health concern," said Linda Ross, chair of the Brandon School Division.
"We have people's kids for at least five and a half hours a day … If diseases are going to [spread] that's a great environment for it to happen in."
Vaccination rates across Canada have declined in recent years, in part thanks to misinformation, she said. Many parents continue to believe the disproved theory that some vaccines, namely the measles vaccine, causes autism.
Ross, who is a psychologist and has worked with children with autism, said she has personally encountered the strongly-held view among some parents that there is a connection.
"It's really difficult. All we can do is present the data and try to overcome what really are, superstitions," she said.
This is the second time the Brandon School Division has tried to pass a motion at a Manitoba School Boards Association level to ask the province to make vaccines mandatory. The first effort was defeated in 2015.
Ross said this year's motion is clearer and offers more rationale. She argues mandatory inoculations are a safety issue and requiring them makes schools a safer place, especially for children who cannot get vaccinated because of health concerns.
The province said in an email to CBC it is not considering any legislation at this time that would make vaccines mandatory, although it is working to increase vaccination levels.
The latest data on the subject, found in the 2014 Manitoba Annual Immunization Surveillance Report, shows only six out of 10 seven-year-old Manitobans received all the vaccine doses necessary to be considered complete for their age.
About 67 percent of seven year olds received their recommended vaccinations for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. 84 per cent of seven year olds in 2014 received the polio vaccine, and 75 per cent received their measles shot.
Health officials would prefer the vaccination rate for measles to be around 95 per cent because it's so contagious.
The Southern Health-Santé Sud authority is a particular cause for concern, the report noted, because unlike other parts of the province, the health region has seen a continuous decline in child immunization rates for the past several years.
Manitoba Health says it uses "various strategies" to reach out to parents to encourage vaccinations.
Those strategies include letters mailed to parents when children are 15 months, 20 months and five-and-a-half years old telling them about the routine vaccinations they need.
The department also mails an "immunization certificate" to parents at age seven, which lays out the child's immunization history.
A spokesperson for the office of Manitoba Health Minister Kelvin Goertzen said Manitoba is working with the federal government's Immunization Partnership Fund to increase the number of children and youth vaccinated through "local interventions."
Currently two provinces in Canada require vaccinations for school children: New Brunswick and Ontario.
In Ontario, parents who would like their child to be exempt from mandatory vaccinations at schools are required to first take an educational session about vaccine safety at a local health care centre.