'We've certainly improved the situation': P.E.I. health officials confident in newcomer vaccine uptake

Public health officials on P.E.I. say the "great majority" of immigrants to the province are getting immunized against vaccine preventable diseases.

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Public health officials on P.E.I. are assuring Islanders that most newcomers to the Island are getting vaccinated. 

"We've certainly improved the situation that we have in terms of being readily available to provide [immunization] services to newcomers," said P.E.I.'s public health director Kathy Jones.

Questions around whether some refugees in particular are getting vaccinated were raised earlier this month — following an outbreak of whooping cough in P.E.I.

Kathy Jones, P.E.I.'s director of public health, says the 'vast majority' of newcomers are getting immunized, according to the province's recommendations. (Steve Bruce/CBC )

Ann Robertson, the executive director of Chances Family Centre, cited the issue as one reason why — unlike some other day cares — the centre doesn't require that parents vaccinate their children. 

"We … have newcomer refugee families who have no record of whether they're immunized," Robertson said in early March. 

More newcomer immunization clinics

Jones said many refugees do arrive on P.E.I., often from refugee camps where children have grown up without access to vaccines, or accurate immunization recording. Other immigrants come from countries with different immunization schedules and vaccine availability. 

We have families coming who have not had access to vaccines- Kathy Jones, P.E.I. Director of Public Health

Six years ago, public health officials partnered with the PEI Association for Newcomers to Canada, and started offering monthly newcomer vaccination clinics on the Island.

Last year, to meet the demand from the more than 200 Syrian families moving here, officials started offering three clinics a month.

Jones said nurses at the clinics are able to get children and adults who've missed out on vaccines caught up. 

"We are typically the first face of the health system in P.E.I. that newcomers see when they come here," said Jones.

"If they do have records with them, we'll look at what they may be missing, or, if they do not have records, and the parents are not aware of what vaccines they may have already had, then we would vaccinate according to the P.E.I. schedule."

Immunization still a choice 

Health officials can't force vaccines on anyone, but Jones said they've rarely run into newcomers opposed to to the recommended immunizations for them and their children. 

"Many times, we have families coming who have not had access to vaccines, or vaccine programs in the refugee camps they may be coming from, and they're very anxious to have their children vaccinated to prevent any kind of disease," said Jones. 

Jones said she's confident the "vast majority" of newcomers are getting all the recommended immunizations, though the province doesn't track immunization rates specifically among immigrants.