Doug Ford cabinet halts rule on reporting immunizations
Doctors, nurses were to inform public health units of each child vaccinated, as of July 1
A new rule that would have required doctors and nurses to report all immunizations they give to children has been put on hold by the new government of Premier Doug Ford.
It's a sign of the repeated delays in Ontario's attempts to create a province-wide computerized system for tracking children's vaccination records.
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The rule was part of a bill passed last year to amend Ontario's Immunization of School Pupils Act. The change meant doctors and nurses would have to inform public health units about each child they vaccinate.
The previous government of Kathleen Wynne said the reform "would make it easier for parents and reduce unnecessary suspensions due to out-of-date immunization records."
It was set to kick in on July 1, but the Ford cabinet halted it during its meeting two days earlier, in response to complaints from the lobby group for doctors.
"The Ontario Medical Association raised concerns with the current schedule for integrating immunization records with other health care partners," said Ford spokesperson Simon Jefferies in a statement provided to CBC News on Friday.
"We took the OMA's feedback into careful consideration, and took the necessary steps to pause the implementation of reporting changes for immunization. We look forward to consulting with health care experts and front-line staff further on this issue."
The move was not officially announced by the Ford government, but was made public on Friday when the orders-in-council from the first cabinet meeting were posted online. Other moves made in that cabinet meeting include appointing Ford's special adviser on health care at a salary of $348,000, shelving a key part of a new anti-scalping law, and stopping reforms to police oversight.
The pause on the vaccination reporting rules was welcomed Friday by OMA president Dr. Nadia Alam.
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"It was unfeasible, just practically speaking," said Alam in an interview. "We couldn't do what the law intended,"
Parents in Ontario have long voiced frustrations about letters threatening to suspend their children from school for not having up-to-date immunization records, even though their kids have had their shots.
Ontario's auditor general has criticized the health ministry for inadequate tracking of vaccination coverage and for cost overruns in developing the provincial immunizations database.
Ontario's immunization reporting system involves a lot of redundancies, said Alam. She said she records vaccines administered in her own computer, bills the province electronically for each shot, and provides copies to the parents, who then pass on copies to school boards and public health units.
"For every hour that I spend filling out paperwork that's unnecessary, that's an hour that I could have spent taking care of patients," said Alam.
She said it is crucial that the province develop a seamless way to connect physicians' electronic medical records on vaccinations with the public health units.
"We strongly do support the notion of having direct reporting from health providers," said Toronto's medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa, in an interview Friday. "It provides the most accurate version of the immunization record and it is frankly is easier for parents and children."
However, de Villa is not critical of the Ford government's decision to put the requirement on hold. She said there must first be a seamless system for transferring vaccination records electronically from doctors and nurses into public health databases.
Toronto's public health unit supported the proposal when it was being considered by the Legislature last year.
"This would ensure timely immunization data are available to public health units, which is critical for control of outbreaks of these diseases," wrote Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto's director of communicable disease control, in a submission to the committee studying the bill.
"Interim solutions such as faxing immunization records directly to public health, or using other internet interfaces to report immunizations will result in increased workload for health care providers and public health units," Yaffe wrote.