Getting back to school in Ontario is likely to involve more than social distancing and face masks. The Ontario Medical Association (OMA) wants parents to ensure that routine children's vaccinations are up to date. This is because many parents have not kept up regular doctor visits during the pandemic.
The OMA put out a notice recently on the importance of routine vaccinations for children, now that the pandemic is easing in many parts of Ontario.
Public health nurse Justeen Mansourian-Christakos agrees. As one who specializes in controlling infectious diseases, she is reminding parents there is a schedule of vaccines for preventable diseases for school-aged children in Ontario.
She said along with the full list of childhood vaccines, there is also a push on for Grade 7 students to ensure their vaccines are updated as well. Mansourian-Christakos explained that in Ontario, Grade 7 is when students are given three different vaccines; for meningitis, hepatitis-B and Gardasil9 for the human papillomavirus. She said the schedule was disrupted when schools were closed back in March with the COVID-19 restrictions.
"Public health was set to go in there in May and June to complete the series. That never happened because schools never reopened. So that cohort of Grade 7 children from the 2019-2020 academic year need to be caught up to complete the series," she said.
She said there have been a series of clinics held throughout the summer in local schools through the health unit area where Grade 7 students were able to come in by appointment only, to get their vaccines.
Mansourian-Christakos added that it was for the same reason during the pandemic that many Ontario parents put off getting regular vaccines for their children. She said the OMA message was on point.
"When much of Ontario's economy shut down and people were asked to practice physical distancing, doctors' offices remained open and continued to provide vital services, including childhood vaccinations. However, many people were unaware their doctor was seeing patients in person or were concerned about visiting their doctor's office. As a result, many children may be behind on their scheduled vaccines," said the news release from the medical association.
"These are routine vaccines that prevent against vaccine-preventable diseases. The concern is that we don't want to see the resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases as COVID-19 continues. Right now we are not at a peak in Ontario. In the event we see another peak, our hospital beds are going to be filling up again with COVID-19 patients so we need to do our best to ensure that our communities are vaccinated against what we can actually prevent right now," said Mansourian-Christakos.
"We don't want to see a resurgence of diseases like whooping cough, measles and mumps. We have the ability to protect our community against that so they need to stay on top of their vaccination schedule.”
Mansourian-Christakos said she knows a lot of parents were worried about bringing their children to routine appointments. She is urging parents to contact their regular health-care provider now to get their vaccines updated. She also recommended bringing the children in on a day where no other special clinics taking place.
Mansourian-Christakos said she wouldn't want to bring a child into a setting where there might be other sick children, just to mitigate that risk.
She said even though restrictions might be easing up on the COVID-19 pandemic, it does not mean parents should relax their concerns for other childhood preventable diseases.
"The potential for a resurgence of preventable disease is still there," she said. "Throughout the pandemic, routine vaccines have always been essential. That has never stopped. It is important anytime throughout the year. It's just about keeping on top of the schedule and not delaying it if you don't have to."
She also mentioned that in the United States, there is concern about a lapse in childhood vaccinations.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has expressed alarm about the fact that in some parts of the U.S. vaccinations have dropped off more than 50 per cent.
Concern was also expressed that the lapse in vaccinations could put millions of children at risk for such childhood diseases as measles, whooping cough, mumps and chickenpox (varicella).