Immunization checks complete for 150,000 Ottawa students

The agency says it's delighted with the response from parents in its months-long task of reviewing vaccination records from students at the four big school boards, and now moves on to private school students.

7,800 total suspension notices were sent out in batches since December

Ontario law requires children have proof of their vaccinations to attend school, and it's up to parents to send Ottawa Public Health any updates to their records.

After nearly a year of combing through 150,000 immunization records from students at Ottawa's four school boards, Ottawa Public Health sent out its last batch of suspension notices for missed vaccinations last week.

It began the big task by making phone calls to parents and guardians last summer, then moved on to sending letters about incomplete records. In the end, Ottawa Public Health issued suspension orders to 7,800 students over ten batches.

"If we sent all of this out at one time it would crash the system because of the volume, so we needed to stage it," said Sherry Nigro, manager of health promotion and disease prevention at Ottawa Public Health.

"As it was, we were getting 200 calls a day and 200 faxes a day."

The agency embarked on the upgrade of its electronic records, which required extra staff, because it is legally obliged to monitor students' records and make sure they've had the shots required to attend school. 

Now that it's gone through the vaccination files of students at the four school boards, it will move on to those of private school students.

New database, fewer outbreaks

Ottawa Public Health admitted last spring it wasn't monitoring students as the law required because it was struggling to update from a clunky, old system to a new web-based one.

Nigro believes all the work involved has been worth it, and not only because it makes the workload easier in future years.

Ottawa Public Health's Sherry Nigro said the organization is delighted with how the community has responded in the big task of updating students' vaccination records. (CBC)
"We've never had a problem with outbreaks in Ottawa, but now we have the data that's saying that we have a high percentage of kids are immunized," said Nigro,

That said, there have been instances where someone travels back to Ottawa and brings with him or her a case of measles, creating a small cluster of disease, she added.

"But now with this herd immunity and having this database so up-to-date, we'll know exactly who's at risk of getting the disease. We'll be able to provide quicker interventions to prevent outbreaks."

'Delighted' by high coverage rates

Nigro said she's delighted by high coverage rates for the children, and the response from parents.

The exercise also helped parents better understand they have an obligation to update the public health unit when their children get vaccines, she said.

Staff will sum up the results of the project in a report to the Ottawa Board of Health, likely in June.