Ottawa

Technology helping bring immunization records up to date

Technology is slowly but surely helping Ottawa Public Health whittle down its list of children whose immunization records need updating, as parents trade in the old yellow cards for smart phone apps.

Ottawa Public Health has issued notices to families whose files need updating

Children need nine immunizations to attend school in Ottawa and it can be difficult for Ottawa Public Health to keep track. (Eric S. Swist/Associated Press/Conroe Courier)

Technology is slowly but surely helping Ottawa Public Health whittle down its list of children whose immunization records need updating, as parents trade in the old yellow cards for smart phone apps.

"We've made significant strides in the last few years. It used to be all manual reporting," said Lorette Dupuis, the manager in charge of the public health agency's immunization program.

Many parents now update their children's vaccination records using the CANImmunize app, or the online site Immunization Connect Ontario, she said.

"All the public health units are looking for solutions that get away from parents calling and faxing because of what a big burden it is," explained Katherine Atkinson, a PhD student who's running the Ottawa Hospital mHealth lab that developed the CANImmunize app under Dr. Kumanan Wilson.

Shots for 9 diseases

Children are required to have shots for nine diseases, or risk being suspended from school. For the fourth year in a row, that Ottawa Public Health has undertaken the big task of checking each and every immunization file in its jurisdiction. 

This year, 25,781 children, or 17 per cent of those enrolled at Ottawa's four school boards, received a first notice in the mail indicating their file needs updating. That's down from 58,740 children during the 2014-15 school year — a vast improvement.

Many of those kids have been vaccinated, but simply need to update their files, Dupuis said.

In a typical year, only about one in every 10 children who receive a first notice end up being suspended 15 weeks later, she said.

Ideally, Ottawa Public Health would like to focus on promoting vaccination instead of chasing down families whose records haven't been kept up to date, or trying to decipher hand-written immunization cards, Dupuis said.

The health authority allows for two types of exemptions under the Immunization of School Pupils Act. Parents can fill out a statement of conscience or religious belief or a statement of medical exemption.

Ottawa Public Health is also undertaking a pilot to send out notices to children in daycare in the coming weeks.

Missed vaccinations won't mean a child can't attend: instead the hope is that by filling in missing vaccinations during the preschool years, there will be less need to send out notices once the child reaches school age.

Shift to doctors on hold

Ontario's former Liberal government had taken steps to cut the number of unnecessary suspension notices by passing the Immunization of School Pupils Act, which would have shifted the onus for reporting to doctors and nurses by July 1.

However the Progressive Conservative government hit pause on that plan over concerns by the Ontario Medical Association and others that they hadn't been properly consulted.

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