Ontario Schools will take another hit from the province as funding for public health units are reduced. Public health plays a vital role in ensuring the safety of our communities, with one function being to monitor childhood vaccinations.
Under section 6 of the Immunization of School Pupils Act, all elementary and secondary students must have proof of immunization against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, pertussis and chickenpox. A medical officer of health may suspend a student from attendance at the school.
Public Health officials have the power to ensure the safety of school — so much so that school boards have no discretion to allow any leeway when it comes to vaccinations. The Courts have upheld mandatory vaccination requirements in the past, even when challenged on religious grounds. Parents have been convicted for indirectly violating compulsory attendance laws because they have refused to have their children vaccinated as a prerequisite school admission.
In 2019, this is a growing issue — especially where resources do not allow for sufficient oversight.
A Growing Challenge
In June 2018 the government cancelled a requirement for doctors and nurses to report vaccines to public health, which in theory makes tracking immunization records more difficult; parents and guardians are now responsible for reporting vaccines administered to school-aged children. Unless they have a valid exemption, children who attend primary or secondary school must be immunized, but without the proper oversight, monitoring who has been vaccinated is more cumbersome.
With the World Health Organization citing the anti-vaccination movement as a top ten global threat in 2019, it is easy to see the compounding effects of reduced funding and fewer interventions from Public Health. The reality of this threat in Toronto is already visible, where only 76 percent of 7-year old students have been immunized for measles — a statistic that health official say is not close enough to establish herd immunity — the percentage of the population needed to stop the spread of disease.
The reality for schools is that they cannot afford to expose staff and students to potential safety risks like communicable diseases. This could mean disaster for urban centers like Toronto. It is clear that Public Health plays a vital role in protecting students, whether through immunization or ensuring health practices in school through education and information.
The government suggests we can't afford to fund this initiative. I don't think we can afford not to.