The measles outbreak in Toronto has left many parents uncertain of the risks their children face attending school.
Toronto Public Health diagnosed its sixth case of measles in the city this week and sent warning letters home with students. The purpose of the letter is to encourage parents to have their children vaccinated against the virus while the investigation continues to determine the cause of the outbreak.
“Vaccination is the best defence against measles infection; and two doses of measles-containing vaccine (MMR or MMRV) are required for full-protection,” says Dr. Barbara Yaffe, the Associate Medical Officer of Health.
Most Toronto schools have high vaccination rates. However, if a measles exposure occurs in a school, students with complete vaccination, or an exception from receiving the vaccine, will not be allowed to attend school until the outbreak is over.
“When I heard about the outbreak, I quickly made sure my son’s measles vaccination was up-to-date. As a parent, I think all school kids should bring proof within a couple weeks since everyone has the yellow card it shouldn’t take much effort,” said Elizabeth Mior, mother of a 12-year old student attending Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic School.
Under Ontario’s Immunization of School Pupils Act, students are required to provide vaccination records to attend school. Without proof of vaccination, they can be suspended from school unless they submit an exemption.
In 2013, approximately 5,939 students were given exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons.
“I think it should be mandatory, and there should be no exemptions unless it’s for health reasons. Otherwise, we’re putting many children’s lives at risk,” said Rocco Conforzi, father of 13-year old student attending Park Lawn Secondary School.
Parents refusing to vaccinate for religious reasons need to consider the 2014 outbreak in British Columbia. A church member returning from a trip to the Netherlands started a chain of transmission that led to more than 200 cases within the province.
Meanwhile, parents making decisions based on philosophical grounds don’t believe vaccines are safe or necessary. They will not be persuaded by scientific evidence to support vaccine use despite the devastating results.
As part of the continuing investigation, public officials continue to contact people who may have been exposed in places such as health care settings, schools and daycares.
Individuals are being encouraged to get vaccinations, if they have not already done so.