Starting today (Sept. 26), the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit is issuing suspension orders to Grade 11 and 12 students with incomplete vaccination records.
However, also as of today, the health unit is reporting it has seen an influx of students coming in to catch-up on routine immunizations.
As of Monday, the health unit said there were 1,623 students in Grades 11 and 12 with missing or incomplete vaccination records, affidavits or medical exemptions on file, split between 621 students at the Simcoe County District School Board, 246 students at the Simcoe Muskoka Catholic District School Board and 756 students who attend private, alternate, home schools or are in the Trillium Lakelands area.
“These numbers are higher than in the previous years we have done this surveillance work because we are catching up on over three years of missed vaccinations due to the pandemic,” said Deanna Thompson, manager of the immunization program with the health unit.
On Tuesday, Thompson noted that number has dropped to only 1,003 students still requiring updated vaccination records.
“In 24 hours, our numbers dropped,” she said. “We worked really hard yesterday. This means the work we’re doing is super meaningful.”
The health unit has focused on Grade 11 and 12 students this year because, Thompson says, it’s important to get students caught up to protect them and the community before they leave high school.
Previously, the health unit has focused on Grade 11 students only.
Currently, vaccines that are required for the Grade 11 and 12 age groups under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) are diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease and pertussis (whooping cough).
“Most Grade 11 and 12 students are missing their Tdap (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus) booster which is given around the age of 14-16 years,” said Thompson. “This isn’t just a Simcoe-Muskoka issue. It’s an Ontario, Canadian and worldwide issue.”
While Thompson notes Simcoe-Muskoka is lucky in that the health unit hasn’t yet seen a significant uptick in cases of immunizable diseases locally, she notes there have been outbreaks of measles in Ontario in the recent past. She said at the beginning of the pandemic the health unit did see some cases of mumps and measles.
“Locally, we’ve been very lucky, (but) we can prevent these with vaccines,” she said.
If a student wants an exemption to vaccinations, Thompson says they are required to talk with a health unit nurse and watch a video online from the medical officer of health. The nurse will then provide an affidavit package by email. Each affidavit needs to be notarized in order to be valid.
All health unit offices across Simcoe and Muskoka are offering walk-in clinics from Sept. 25 to Sept. 29 from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
When a student is immunized at a health unit clinic their record is immediately updated and they are given a confirmation sheet to return to school. Students may also receive their immunization through their health-care provider but must report this information to the health unit.
For more information on immunizations, click here.