New regulations are on the way to ensure B.C. students are vaccinated for measles when school resumes this fall, Health Minister Adrian Dix says.
The province has the authority under the Public Health Act to require it, and Dix said Tuesday he is optimistic that regulations can be in place by September. It was recommended by Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry after the latest detection of B.C. cases in recent weeks, and in 2014 after an outbreak in the Fraser Valley led to 342 cases.
Since public health officials warned of possible exposure to the measles virus in Vancouver, Richmond, Squamish and Whistler, there has been significant public interest. Dix said 8,000 people have come forward for the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine in the Vancouver Coastal health region since the warning was publicized.
“People are responding to this,” Dix said. “Being immunized is not just important for your child, it’s important for children who for medical reasons can’t be immunized.”
B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson urged Dix to arrange for “retail level” options for obtaining the MMR vaccine, such as clinics in schools and at pharmacies. Dix said the vaccine is available free from doctors’ offices and public health offices around the province.
Wilkinson said many people do not have their children’s vaccination records up to date, and should be given a drop-in option to make sure their immunity is sufficient.
Mandatory vaccination for schools is more complicated than simply passing a regulation, Dix said in an interview. There are medical exemptions and “ideological reasons” that have to be accounted for, and indications that public education may be more effective.
Ontario has mandatory vaccinations for schools and a province-wide rate of 91 per cent protection, which is short of the 95 per cent level public health officials target for “herd immunity” that prevents most exposure.
Newfoundland and Labrador have the highest level of immunization at 96 per cent, with no requirement in place, Dix said.
Dix agreed with Wilkinson that information packages and posters would assist in getting the word out, and those will be made available to MLA offices.