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Local vaccination rate is high, but some students suspended from school

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Troy Shantz

Several dozen students in Sarnia-Lambton are suspended from school this week because their families haven’t yet provided up-to-date vaccination records to Lambton Public Health.

Without documentation or an exemption letter, students are suspended for 20 days.

A total of 2,800 notices went out late last year and more than 300 had not responded by the March 1 deadline.

Parents can apply for an exemption, most often for medical reasons, but the exemption rate is low, said Erin Courtney, Lambton’s supervisor of health.

“We hear lots of really interesting stories,” she said, noting religious or philosophical concerns are sometimes cited by concerned parents.

A campaign by anti-vaccination activists has resulted in a global surge of measles, according to the Centre for Disease Control.

Seventeen cases of measles were confirmed in the Vancouver area and one in Niagara as of last week. No recent cases have been reported in Sarnia-Lambton.

A group called Vaccine Choice Canada placed ads on 50 digital billboards in Toronto last month. The ads, which were taken down quickly, claimed vaccines are risky and students don’t need them to attend school.

Courtney called the spread of misinformation “concerning,” but noted vaccination coverage is still adequate in Ontario. Some 91% of seven-year-olds had updated measles shots in 2016, Public Health Ontario reported. At least 90% is required to achieve so-called “herd immunity.”

Courtney said she is sympathetic of parents trying to do what’s best thing for their children, but added it’s frustrating having to respond to long-debunked conspiracy theories about vaccine safety.

“Parents’ fears mainly are a result from the plethora of misinformation that they are exposed to online,” she said via email.

Some parents, for example, still believe the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is linked to autism, she said, even though it was disproven decades ago.

Some parents are also wary of the HPV vaccine. The non-mandatory shot protects against seven cancer strains as well as human papillomavirus. But, Courtney said, some fear it will empower their children to be sexually “promiscuous.”

The Immunization of School Pupils Act requires that immunization records of students be provided to Lambton Public Health. Students must be vaccinated for tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, chicken pox and meningococcal disease.

Parents who seek an exemption must attend a 45-minute information session with public health staff, Courtney said. If they are still opposed they need a notary-signed affidavit for each child they wish to exempt.

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