Thousands of students in Perth and Huron counties will need to get their immunization records up to date or face suspension from school.
Huron Perth Public Health (HPPH) has reviewed student immunization records of all students attending elementary or secondary school in the two counties. The review found over 5,000 records are incomplete in Huron and Perth counties.
Public health nurse Jennifer Beaver pointed out the review is done regularly by law.
"It's part of the immunization of school pupils act. So it's a regulation in Ontario that promotes immunization," Beaver explained. "And the purpose is to have health units review the records and make sure that students attending school are up to date with their immunizations that are required to attend school in Ontario."
Beaver added that the review found about 39 per cent of student records are incomplete. She said the numbers aren't really surprising since what was normally an annual review, was put on hold during the pandemic.
"There was going to be an increase this year due to a pause that we had to have, due to the pandemic," Beaver continued. "Obviously immunization clinics focused work on that COVID vaccine but now we're back at what we're doing. And it makes sense based on the numbers that we had a couple of years off and so it's a little bit larger this time."
This is also the first time HPPH is completing the review and suspension process since the former Huron County and Perth District Health Units merged in 2019.
"Based on what we would normally see in a year, it's about three times the amount that we would normally see, which makes sense as it's about three years worth of immunization records," Beaver pointed out. "And it doesn't necessarily mean though that students are not up to date. Often what it means is that they got immunized at their family doctor's office or a nurse practitioner, and then the record didn't actually get the public health to say they're actually up to date with their immunization."
She stressed it's up to parents to ensure those records are updated by May 23, 2024, or students risk suspension
"It actually does fall to the parents and it's a common problem that we see that the systems of the family doctors have is different than what public health has and they don't speak to each other," she revealed. "So the family doctors will keep track of the records and it's quite easy for parents to either ask for a copy of the record and then they drop it off at the health unit or go to our website, where it gives them options of how to send the records into public health."
HPPH has begun sending letters through the schools to parents/legal guardians of students with incomplete records.
Beaver urged everyone to remain up to date on vaccines to protect kids from diseases that actually are still out there.
"We do want to protect these kids so that they're protecting our schools from outbreaks happening," stated Beaver. "So some diseases like measles, mumps, or pertussis, whooping cough, they are still out there and we don't see a lot of them. However, that's because of our immunization rates that help to decrease the spread and they decrease the chances of the disease."
"Some of these vaccines protect against diseases that can have severe consequences, and make people very sick, or have long term issues after they get those diseases," Beaver warned. "So we don't want to see those diseases come back and cause huge outbreaks in our schools or in our communities."
HPPH has been holding catch-up immunization clinics, and resumed in-school clinics in the fall of 2023.