Canada’s Health Minister said Monday that he will not require people to get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine (commonly called MMR vaccine) as a condition of having their children vaccinated against the virus. A bipartisan group of provincial legislators have filed a motion calling on the federal government to act, but Dr. Greg Taylor, the province’s Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, maintains that a specific shot is not needed and shouldn’t be mandatory.
“We would ask parents to go out and get their immunizations, we would not ask them,” Taylor said during a question-and-answer session at a health board meeting.
More than 800 cases of measles have been reported this year in Ontario alone, due to outbreaks across the country and worldwide, according to the provincial government. In September, the province issued an apology to an 11-year-old girl who contracted the disease. The outbreak has triggered nearly half of all confirmed, unconfirmed and possibly contagious cases.
On Tuesday, the city of Toronto announced a series of initiatives to ramp up vaccination efforts, which are focused on young kids. City-run community schools are now required to issue certificates that show parents the number of vaccinations their children need in order to be enrolled. Each parent or guardian must show a proof of their family’s vaccination history on their request forms. (Parents of children with medical conditions are exempt.)
At three government-run elementary schools in the city, parents will receive a notification letter stating that their children will receive their MMR vaccine if they receive their booster shots this month. (A grandparent can cover the cost.) The letter will explain that there is no mandatory vaccination for toddlers when they enter these schools. Last year, city-run elementary schools were also administered 27,000 measles shots. The school board hopes to vaccinate students who might have missed their injections this fall.
The city also said it will revamp the province’s school immunization clinics to reduce wait times. In the first six months of the school year, the city estimates that 86 percent of immunization recipients received their vaccine within the recommended time. Despite this, these efforts have fallen short of the federal government’s requirement that people have their booster shots before entering school. Until now, Ontario has been hesitant to enforce a required vaccine requirement.
The new measures could lessen the role of online vaccine providers that advise people about which vaccines they need and offer a cost-free method of vaccination. These dispensaries are popular, as doctors will often administer a booster shot if a child comes in after that. “There’s parents who have some sympathy for these people and can’t understand why the government would penalize these people who are trying to protect their children,” said Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization. (Chan is in Ottawa to promote a second vaccination campaign, the “Mint Yourself This Year” campaign.)
At a talk this week at the Ottawa Public Library, Chan said parents should think twice before opening the door to unscientific online recommendations. “It is absolutely critical to trust our own experience and do not allow somebody to give you an advice that you can’t independently verify,” she said.