More than 3,500 Lambton County students and pupils could be suspended from school next month because their immunization records aren’t up to date, the country’s medical officer of health says.
About 6,000 notices went out in January and since then, families of more than 2,000 students and pupils submitted updated records, Dr. Karalyn Dueck said.
“Those numbers are coming down, but obviously we want to see them go down even further,” she said.
Lambton Public Health began issuing suspension orders Friday. They take effect March 5 for elementary schoolers and March 26 for high schoolers whose immunization records aren’t up to date.
As of Monday, orders were in place for 2,371 elementary pupils and 1,117 secondary students.
The numbers are “larger than we’ve seen in the past,” Dueck said.
The health unit paused enforcement of immunization rules in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Families may have fallen behind, but the agency has been urging them to get immunizations and records updated since last Msy.
“This is the first year we’re enforcing, since the pandemic.” Dueck said.
The last suspensions came during 2019-20, when 98 local schoolkids were barred from school until their immunization records were updated.
To avoid suspensions under provincial law, parents or guardians must report immunizations or valid exemptions to the health unit for tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease and varicella.
“Immunization records are not automatically reported by health-care providers to public health,” Dueck said. “A lot of the time a child has received all the required immunizations, but they have not yet been reported by the parent or guardian to public health.”
Information on reporting immunization records, or how to complete the exemption process, can be found at lambtonpublichealth.ca.
Families with children who still need required immunizations should contact their health-care provider or Lambton Public Health at 226-254-8222 to book an appointment at an immunization clinic. Families also call the health unit if they have questions or need more information.
“We’re anticipating a high volume of calls over the next month and we do appreciate patience and understanding,” Dueck said.
Up-to-date immunization records let the health unit act swiftly during an outbreak, Dueck said.
“Bottom line is that adequate community immunity ensures the prevention of transmission of these vaccine-preventable diseases in our community, and it protects the health of children,” she said.
Dueck said the agency is grateful families are making the effort to get kids’ immunizations and records updated.
“We are coming together as a community to protect the health of all,” she said.