Waterloo Region students not immune to suspensions

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This spring, up to 20,000 students may receive suspension warnings from the Region of Waterloo&rsquo;s public health department for lack of immunization.</p>

“This year in the elementary system, public health mailed out 10,077 notices from October to January and provided 4,115 suspension orders during the first week of March,” said David Aoki, manager of infectious diseases, dental, and sexual health at Region of Waterloo public health department.

Every spring, the Region of Waterloo’s public health department mails out suspension orders to students without up-to-date immunization records. This process, based on the Immunization of School Pupils Act enacted in Ontario in 1990, allows the department to ensure all students are learning in a safe environment.

This year, almost double the number of suspension warnings have been distributed due to a couple of major changes.

“We did not suspend students in 2015 due to the implementation of a new provincial immunization records database. Also, we are beginning implementation of three new vaccines added in 2015 to the list of mandatory vaccines, according to the Immunization of School Pupils Act,” Aoki said.

The three new diseases for which students will need to provide proof of immunization are whooping cough, chickenpox, and meningococcal disease. If a student does not have the necessary vaccines, they are given adequate time to visit a doctor who can immunize them with the readily accessible vaccines.

Although this issue is not directly addressed at the University of Waterloo, Health Services does encourage students to be immunized with the recommended vaccines. 

“In terms of a public health perspective, we of course encourage immunization and Health Services offers immunization when appropriate,” said Dr. Clark Baldwin, interim medical director at UW Health Services.

Health Services advocates for students to be immunized in order to protect the student community to the best of their ability. 

“Despite there being a significant population of international students from around the world with different immunization standards, we do our best to take that into account and keep everyone safe,” Baldwin said.

Dianne Weir-Rowsell, nursing practice lead at Health Services, explained the importance of vaccines for students and how available they are at UW. 

“Many of the vaccines students should get are strongly recommended, but not required. The costs of these vaccines may vary depending on its type and the number of doses needed, but many of them are covered by most health plans. If they are a student on campus, they are likely going to have a student supplementary health plan that covers a lot of the vaccines,” Weir-Rowsell said.

The Feds undergraduate health insurance plan provides students with 80 per cent coverage on most vaccines. On top of that, plan members do not incur out-of-pocket costs for vaccinations prescribed and dispensed by UW Health Services.

Both Baldwin and Weir-Rowsell want to express Health Services’ mission to always be available, without any barriers, to students who require information regarding any health-related topic.

“An immunization clinic is readily available to students every day who may need to have their immunization records updated, or just have questions in general about certain vaccines. A travel clinic is also available once a week for students going on co-op or vacation who may need certain vaccinations depending on where they are going in the world,” Weir-Rowsell said.

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