New Brunswick

Hearings on mandatory vaccines for students draw speakers on both sides of issue

Opponents and supporters of vaccines are to appear this week before a legislative committee looking into whether vaccinations should be mandatory for every child in the New Brunswick school system who doesn't have a medical exemption.

Legislative committee studying bill proposing all schoolchildren be vaccinated

Education Minister Dominic Cardy says anyone who is speaking out against vaccines is misleading the public. (CBC)

Opponents and supporters of vaccines are to appear this week before a legislative committee looking into whether  vaccinations should be mandatory for all children in the New Brunswick school system.

The law amendments committee is studying proposed amendments to the Education Act and the Public Health Act that were introduced after a measles outbreak in the Saint John area in the spring.

The mandatory vaccinations would also apply to children in licensed early-learning and childcare centres. 

Under Bill 39, all existing and new students would have to either provide proof they're immunized against certain diseases, such as measles and whooping cough, or provide a medical exemption form signed by a health-care professional.

Twelve cases of measles were confirmed during the spring in the Saint John area. (The Canadian Press)

Right now students can go without vaccinations for medical reasons or because their parents object.

But Education Minister Dominic Cardy says the opting out puts the most vulnerable people at greater risk. 

"We're talking here about protecting immunocompromised kids," Cardy said Monday. "There's a small percentage of kids who can't get vaccinated for health reasons." 

The changes would take effect Sept. 1, 2021. 

In June, southern New Brunswick saw 12 confirmed cases of measles in the Saint John health region, and there was a whooping cough outbreak in the Fredericton region.

Under the immunization bill, if students aren't vaccinated, Cardy has said, they won't be allowed into school and will have to go to private school or be home-schooled instead. 

And once the bill is passed, Cardy plans to work with unionized employees, including teachers, custodians and bus drivers, to make sure they too are immunized.

At the hearings, speakers against vaccinations include Vaccine Choice Canada, a non-profit group that has called mandatory vaccines "the largest and most important civil rights issue since the civil rights movement in the United States in the 1960s, and the movement to give women the right to vote." 

They are people who have had their medical licences yanked. They are people who are on the internet espousing bizarre conspiracy theories.- Dominic Cardy, education minister

Another opponent is Dr. Dena Churchill, a former chiropractor in Halifax, who's extreme views on vaccines, which fall outside the scope of chiropractic, include a belief they cause cancer. 

"The public have a right to be heard and there are members of the public who hold positions against the vaccination regime," Cardy said.  

But the minister, who will be the first to speak to the committee when the hearings get under way Tuesday, said he plans on addressing who the vaccine opponents are. 

"They are people who have had their medical licences yanked. They are people who are on the internet espousing bizarre conspiracy theories."

Cardy said many parents in the province have sent him online articles about the dangers of vaccines, which he said are untrue.

"They're playing on the fears that a lot of parents have," he said. 

Others on the agenda for the hearings, which run through Thursday, include Dr. Serge Melanson of the New Brunswick Medical Society, Norman Bosse of the Office of the Child, Youth and Seniors' Advocate, and Paul Blanchard of the New Brunswick Pharmacists' Association.

About the Author

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

With files from Information Morning Fredericton, Michael Gorman

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