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2,969 Waterloo Region elementary students suspended for out-of-date vaccination records


Almost 3,000 elementary school students in Waterloo Region were suspended Wednesday because their vaccination records were incomplete.

Initial notices were sent out to parents and guardians in November and December. At that time, 27,567 students were at risk of suspension.

Cambridge parent Sarah McKay said she was on hold with Region of Waterloo Public Health for most of Wednesday after finding out her youngest son couldn’t go to school, despite the fact both her kids were up-to-date with their childhood vaccinations.

“My older son’s class sent the paperwork home to say we need your vaccination records and they did warn us that there would be a cutoff and suspension,” she explained.

McKay said she went online to update both of her son’s records that day, in early March.

“I have two separate reference numbers to say that both of them were inputted and that was the last I heard until I got a call [Wednesday] around lunch from the school saying that the little one wouldn’t be able to go back [Thursday],” she told CTV News. “When I spoke to the girl at public health, she said several families who have multiple children that they're registering -- it accepted one of the children and not the other.”

McKaysaid parents were told they have to book an in-person appointment to update the record, but until then, her son can’t go back to school.

“We don’t know how far out those [appointments] are booked, and hopefully he gets one before this batch fills up,” McKay added.

Public health told CTV News they’re working through a high volume of submissions and appreciates everyone’s patience while they confirm their records.

“To keep these kids out of school is just unfair,” added McKay.

The Immunization of School Pupils Act requires all Ontario elementary and secondary school students to have proof of vaccination for diphtheria, polio, tetanus, pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (chickenpox) and meningitis, or proof of an exemption.

Region of Waterloo Public Health told CTV News the number of notifications sent out this school year is about three times that of a typical pre-pandemic year. It is worth nothing that the vaccination requirements were not enforced over the last several years.

“We’d taken a break because of the pandemic and we knew it was going to be a big year,” Dr. David Aoki, the region’s director of infectious diseases, said.

Just over 18,000 student vaccination records were still outstanding in February.

On Wednesday morning, suspension notices were given to 2,969 students.

Aoki acknowledged that family doctors are busy this time of year and capacity in health care across the board is stretched thin.

“As long as you have a proof of an [upcoming] date of immunization. . . we’ve been providing exemptions to students knowing they’re going to do that,” he added.

Public health is also running additional clinics, by appointment only, at 99 Regina St. S. in Waterloo and 30 Christopher Dr. in Cambridge. Aoki said if parents make an appointment at these clinics, the student will be allowed back into the classroom.

As for exemptions in the region, Aoki said just under one per cent of students have medical exemptions and around three per cent have exemptions based on philosophical/statement of conscience grounds, or parents who are opting out for a different vaccination schedule.

“We don’t want to suspend [students],” he explained. “We want to get them up-to-date and also remind parents you need to get this shot. It’s important.”

Spread of measles

With a recent rise in measles cases worldwide, Dr. Aoki stressed the importance of getting vaccinated.

“Measles is very infectious,” he explained. “It doesn’t need a lot of people to not be protected to start spreading very quickly.”

Unlike the flu and COVID-19 where the advice was to keep a two-metre distance from others and mask up to slow the spread, Aoki called measles a “virus that floats” because it can stay airborne for hours.

“For up to two hours after someone infected with measles leaves a room they were in, the virus is still present,” Aoki said. “The vaccine is the best protection for measles.” Top Stories

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