New Brunswick

1 in 11 kindergarteners had no proof of measles vaccinations last year: records

Parents of 651 children attending kindergarten in New Brunswick last year provided no record of them having any measles vaccines, according to Department of Health records.

Saint John, which is in the midst of a measles outbreak, had the 2nd lowest compliance rate for 2 doses of MMR

Under Policy 706, children are supposed to be immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis, varicella and meningococcal disease before entering the public school system in New Brunswick. (Canadian Press)

Parents of 651 children attending kindergarten in New Brunswick last year provided no record of them having any measles vaccines, according to Department of Health records.

That's one out of every 11 kindergarteners in the province, including those in the public system and at independent and First Nation schools.

Another 288 children had only one of the two recommended doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine, the documents obtained by CBC News through a Right to Information request show.

In total, 939 students — about 13 per cent — of the children in kindergarten in 2017-18 had no or only partial records of MMR vaccines.

That's equivalent to more than two children in each of the province's approximately 400 kindergarten classrooms who did not have documentation of full measles immunization.

It's unclear if that many children were actually unvaccinated and inadequately vaccinated, or whether some of them were protected but enrolled without the medical paperwork to prove it.

Education Minister Dominic Cardy has said he recently discovered the seven school districts have not been consistently collecting the proof of immunization required to enter the public school system "for a very long time … despite the fact that it's mandated" by Policy 706.

100 parental objections

But the health records obtained by CBC show 100 of the children who attended kindergarten in 2017-18 without a vaccination record did have a parental declaration stating they had not been immunized at all because of their parents' opposition to all types of vaccination. That's about one in every 73.

None had a medical exemption signed by a physician.

Under Policy 706, students are required, "as a condition for admission to the public school system," to either show proof they are immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, polio, pertussis (whooping cough), varicella (chicken pox) and meningococcal disease, or to obtain an exemption for medical reasons or parental objections.

The aim of the policy is to "minimize the risk that an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease will occur" and to make sure students are protected if such an outbreak happens.

Cardy has said he wants to "tighten up" the personal exemption provision, which he describes as too broad, and crack down on enforcement.

Measles outbreak in Saint John

The Saint John health region is dealing with a measles outbreak, with 12 cases of the highly contagious respiratory disease confirmed in the past month.

Health officials have said they expect to see the number climb because more than 2,000 people have been potentially exposed to the virus that's transmitted through the air or by direct contact with an infected individual.

The most recent case, announced by health officials on Saturday, involves someone at Hampton High School and is linked to Kennebecasis Valley High School in Quispamsis, where nine of the cases are based.

Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, says vaccination is the best way for people to protect themselves and their families against measles. (CBC)

The other two are linked to the Saint John Regional Hospital's emergency room, where the outbreak began on April 26, after someone who had recently travelled to Europe visited several times over several days.

Nearly 500 people were vaccinated during a special immunization clinic held at Hampton High on Sunday, Department of Health spokesman Bruce Macfarlane said on Monday.

If the MMR vaccine is administered within 72 hours of possible exposure, it can provide retroactive protection, regardless of previous immunization history, health officials have said.

Region ranked 2nd worst

According to the health department records, the Saint John region, Region 2, had the second-lowest percentage of kindergarteners in the the public system meeting the measles vaccine requirements last year at less than 15 per cent.

The numbers for individual schools were not available. The Department of Education provides regional-level statistics to the Department of Health at the end of each school year.

Of the 1,775 children in kindergarten between Sussex and St. Stephen, 259 did not have proof they had received two doses of MMR, the records show.

Seventeen children had signed parental exemptions for a variety of reasons, including objections to all vaccines or particular vaccines, and objections to revaccination as a result of invalid doses or as a result of lost records.

Of those, only one specifically indicated objection to receiving the second MMR dose. No further explanation was provided.

Students are supposed to show proof of immunization before being allowed to enter the public school system, but the policy hasn't been consistently enforced for years, the education minister has said. (CBC)

The health records show 81 children in the Saint John region had received their first MMR vaccine, but were missing the second one.

One shot is considered about 85 per cent effective, while two doses provide about 97 per cent protection, according to health officials.

In New Brunswick, children are offered the first dose at 12 months of age and the second dose at 18 months. Both are required for their immunization to be deemed up to date.

Campbellton has lowest compliance

Only the Campbellton health region ranked lower than Saint John for MMR immunization. In that region, Region 5, 39 of 175 kindergarteners, or 22 per cent, did not meet the requirement for two doses.

Region 7, Miramichi, boasts the highest compliance among kindergarteners in the province last year. Only 18 of 343 children in that region, or about five per cent, did not have the two MMR doses.

The number of kindergarteners in the public system in the other health regions who did not have both required MMR shots were:

  • Moncton (Region 1), 274 of 2,032, or 13.5 per cent.
  • Edmundston (Region 4), 53 of 431, or 12.3 per cent.
  • Bathurst (Region 6), 68 of 566, or 12 per cent.
  • Fredericton (Region 3), 208 of 1,741, of 11.9 per cent.
Education Minister Dominic Cardy says he plans to crack down on enforcing immunization requirements this fall, likening unvaccinated students to having guns in schools. (Gilles Landry/Radio-Canada)

The number of children in kindergarten with signed parental exemptions to one, some, or all vaccines were:

  • Moncton (Region 1), 43 of 2,032, or two per cent.
  • Fredericton (Region 3), 32 of 1,741, or 1.8 per cent.
  • Edmundston (Region 4), 20 of 431, or 0.5 per cent.
  • Campbellton (Region 5), five of 175, or 2.9 per cent.
  • Bathurst (Region 6), 13 of 566, or 2.3 per cent.
  • Miramichi (Region 7), 10 of 343, or 2.9 per cent.

Some children across the province had their first MMR vaccine but not the second one.

  • Moncton (Region 1), 76 of 2,032, or 3.7 per cent.
  • Fredericton (Region 3), 90 of 1,741, or 5.2 per cent.
  • Edmundston (Region 4), 5 of 431, or 1.2 per cent.
  • Campbellton (Region 5), 12 of 175, or 6.9 per cent.
  • Bathurst (Region 6), 16 of 566, or 2.8 per cent.
  • MIramichi (Region 7), 3 of 342, or 0.9 per cent.

The health records cover 7,229 kindergarteners, including 7,063 in the public system, 82 in independent schools and 84 in First Nations schools.

The numbers are current as of June 30, 2018, the end of the 2017-18 school year.

With files from Karissa Donkin

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