With communicable diseases such as whooping cough, mumps and measles making a comeback, Provincial Health Officer Dr. Perry Kendall is reminding parents to make sure their children's vaccines are up to date as they return to school.
And Kendall has added his voice to that of the Canadian Medical Association, calling for mandatory declaration of vaccination when children enrol at school, as is done in Ontario and New Brunswick.
The CMA voted at its annual meeting in late August for other provinces to follow suit, requiring immunization records but allowing exemptions for medical or religious reasons. Doctors also called for development of a national database to pull together records scattered between doctors' offices and schools.
"By the time a child reaches five or six years old, he or she should have received booster shots that protect against measles, polio, chicken pox, whooping cough and more, and kids in Grade 6 and 9 should receive follow-up vaccinations," Kendall said. "This is all part of B.C.'s free, routine immunization program."
Kendall emphasized that vaccinations themselves would not be mandatory, but the information would give schools the ability to protect students when an outbreak happens. That means excluding unvaccinated children from school during an outbreak, and offering parents the chance to fill gaps in their protection.
"Unvaccinated children are at risk themselves, but they also pose a risk to others because they create a gateway into the community," Kendall told CKNW radio this week. "So we need the concept of herd immunity, where we get 95 per cent of the population of a cohort of children vaccinated, so it's much harder for disease to spread in the community."
Vaccine records also give public health authorities a chance to counter misinformation that has proliferated in recent years, he said.
"If we know who the parents of those children are, we can talk with them and tell them the facts and what is real and what is not real, and hopefully convince a good proportion of them that what they're actually fearing is either unreal or not scientifically valid, or is in fact a misplaced fear," Kendall said. "And we would hope that we would get some of those parents at least to get their children vaccinated."
Parents in B.C. can now sign up for free text message reminders here, and the website also offers a smartphone app to manage immunization records.