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Vaccine exemption rules toughened

TORONTO—Ontario parents who don’t want to have their children vaccinated will have to be educated themselves about the risks their kids will face before they can go to school.

Health minister Eric Hoskins announced steps Friday to deal with so-called anti-vaxxers—parents who don’t want to have their kids immunized because of the now debunked fear that vaccines cause autism or mercury poisoning or auto-immune disorders.

The proposed new strategy, called “Immunization 2020,” will strengthen the publicly-funded immunization program by requiring parents who want a non-medical exemption for their kids to attend an education session, said Hoskins.

“The changes we’re proposing, if passed, would require parents who choose not to vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons to attend an education session delivered by their local public health unit, prior to signing the exemption form,” he explained.

“And parents or guardians would have to acknowledge that they received this education about the very real risks their children face if they chose that decision.”

Hoskins said it’s time to update Ontario’s 1982 law—the first of its kind in Canada—that required children be vaccinated against certain diseases in order to be able to attend school, unless they had a valid exemption.

“These changes not only protect these children, they protect all children, including those who cannot protect themselves,” stressed Hoskins.

There also will be public education campaigns on immunization and an online tool to help remind parents of their children’s vaccination schedules, based on birthdays.

“‘Immunization 2020’ is a call for action and participation for health-care workers, public health specialists, and all Ontarians involved with the province’s immunization system, and all Ontarians involved in the immunization system,” said Hoskins.

The new strategy also addresses the recommendations in the 2014 auditor general’s report, he added.

“There will be expanded public reporting of coverage rates so everyone in Ontario knows where their community stands on immunization,” noted Hoskins.

The auditor concluded last December that the Ministry of Health has no way of tracking the percentage of Ontarians immunized for certain diseases, or whether its immunization program is cost-effective.

A report this year from the C.D. Howe Institute, and another from an independent panel of medical experts, both criticized the lack of data on Ontario’s immunization programs.

Ontario also will increase the scope of practice for pharmacists so they can administer certain travel vaccines, said Hoskins, and also will help educate young people about the value of immunization programs so they don’t become anti-vaxxers.

“[We’ll be] working with the education sector to provide an immunization teaching module that public health units could provide to schools,” he remarked.

“We’re, in effect, helping students make informed choices about immunization before they become adults—and parents.”

Parents opposed to vaccines came under fire following a major outbreak of measles in the U.S., and a smaller one in Canada, after both countries earlier officially had declared they had eradicated the highly-contagious disease.

Hoskins declared Ontario “measles free” last February after there had been fewer than 20 cases in the province.

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