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Proof of vaccination should be mandatory at all schools, Ambrose says

The rest of Canada’s provincial governments should follow the lead of Ontario and New Brunswick in making proof of vaccinations a requirement for attending school, the federal health minister says, The Globe and Mail reports.  “Yes, I do,” Rona Ambrose said Friday when asked whether immunizations against infectious diseases, including the measles, should be mandatory for students across the country. “I have no authority to impose that, but I do, I really do. I think it’s very important.”  Ms. Ambrose’s comments come as Quebec grapples with a measles outbreak outside Montreal that has so far infected 136 people, none of whom were vaccinated against the highly contagious illness, according to Brigitte Chalifoux, a spokeswoman for the health and social-services agency of Lanaudière.

The Quebec outbreak has been linked to a larger outbreak in the United States which began at Disneyland in California. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that 173 cases of the measles had been reported as of March 6, most traced back to the theme park outbreak. Ms. Ambrose had a message for the anti-vaxxers in Quebec and elsewhere: You are putting others at risk. “It’s clear that vaccinations are safe and they save lives,” Ms. Ambrose said Friday after a news conference in Toronto. “It’s very important also to recognize that you may have a very healthy child, but if your child does get sick with measles and isn’t vaccinated and goes to school, there may be other children that aren’t able to be vaccinated because they have vulnerable immune systems. So you’re putting other children at risk and that’s a very serious thing.”

Health officials in Quebec said earlier this week that a student attended a Joliette elementary school while contagious, exposing others to the measles virus. There are 114 students and 51 staff at the school who had not been identified as fully vaccinated. In Ontario, Health Minister Eric Hoskins said Thursday that the province’s measles outbreak appeared to be over, with no new cases reported since Feb. 20. Ontario has logged fewer than 20 cases this year, most in the Niagara Region and the Greater Toronto Area.

Vaccination programs are delivered by the provincial governments, which are responsible for health care in Canada. A new study released this week by the C.D. Howe Institute found that some provinces are achieving much higher vaccination rates than others. No province comprehensively tracks immunization status from birth – something that would help public health officials to identify pockets of vulnerability during outbreaks. The research paper found that coverage across Canada ranges from 70 to 95 per cent of children, depending on the vaccine.

Vaccination rates of about 95 per cent or more are generally considered ideal for a population to develop so-called protective “herd immunity.” Only Newfoundland and Labrador topped 95 per cent for all shots studied, including measles, mumps, chicken pox, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. “Importantly, at least by their own estimates, almost all provinces appear to be below national targets for coverage,” the study says. New Brunswick had 69 per cent coverage for measles, mumps and rubella, just ahead of Nova Scotia at 66 per cent – the lowest rates among provinces. Saskatchewan and P.E.I. had 79 per cent coverage and Quebec just under 84 per cent.

Ontario had almost 91 per cent compared to 85 per cent in Alberta, 86 per cent in B.C. and almost 87 per cent in Manitoba. Ontario and New Brunswick are the only provinces that require students to show proof of vaccinations to attend school. However, parents can apply for an exemption to that rule on religious or philosophical or religious grounds. Measles is an infectious, airborne disease that is highly contagious. Symptoms include a blotchy, red rash, cough and fever, and begin seven to 14 days after a person is exposed.

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