The deadline is quickly approaching for roughly 2,700 local secondary students to get their immunization records up to date.
The Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit (SMDHU) warns students who don’t have updated information by Sept. 26 will be suspended until those records or valid exemptions are provided.
Dr. Colin Lee, Associate Medical Officer of Health and Medical Lead for Immunization and Infectious Disease, says the health unit does not take suspensions lightly, but it is very important to have that information. He says the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted routine childhood and adolescent immunizations around the world, which opens students up to potentially severe diseases.
“This is not only in Ontario, this is a worldwide issue and has really led to an increase in infectious disease such as measles, mumps, and whooping cough,” says Lee. “Unfortunately, these diseases can jump borders pretty quick and come into our schools.”
Under Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, students aged four to 17 need to be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, whooping cough, chickenpox, and meningococcal disease.
Lee says they’ve sent out letters to students in January, June, and early September to get their shots up to date, and immunization appointments are available daily right up to the Sept. 26 deadline and beyond.
“I think truly, truly, truly, most people want to be immunized,” says Lee. “Medical and philosophical exemptions have been quite low historically, about three per cent or so. At the end of the day, students and parents have a lot of things going on, and by human nature we end up leaving things to the last week or last minute. So I’m confident we will get through this.”
He adds many families have already taken those opportunities, jumping from 20 to 30 per cent of students having up to date records in January, to about 80 per cent now. “We are continuing to provide more appointments in places where it’s higher in demand. Uptake is great and please keep it coming, because we really want students to stay in school,” says Lee.
Lee notes that more people have become hesitant around vaccines in the last five to 10 years. He says as a parent himself, it’s understandable to be concerned about your child’s health, but these vaccines have been proven over a long time.
“What I would say is there is a lot of misinformation out there, and it is hard for students and parents to navigate what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s misinformation and real information,” says Lee. “These vaccines that we are offering have been around, most of them, for decades. We know they work, we know they’re effective, we know they’re safe.”
You can book a vaccination appointment or update records via the SMDHU website or by calling 705-721-7520. The health unit is also holding walk-in clinics at each of its offices from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Sept. 25 to 29, including in Huntsville and Gravenhurst.