It’s summertime! The sun is shining, the kids are out of school—and you’ve just realized that they missed out on the measles immunization catch-up campaign. You still have plenty of time to prepare for this fall, when mandatory immunization reporting will be required for school-aged children.

The catch-up campaign, which ran from April through June 2019, was launched by the B.C. government as part of an effort to ensure that all school-age kids—from kindergarten through Grade 12—were up-to-date with their measles immunizations. There have been cases reported in Canada and several countries are experiencing outbreaks right now. In B.C., there were 29 lab-confirmed cases of measles from January to May 2019, including eight in the Island Health region.

Children are among the most vulnerable to measles, a highly contagious disease that spreads through the air. Symptoms include fever, runny nose, sore throat, cough, diarrhea and red eyes. After a few days a rash appears first on the face, spreads to the chest and then to the entire body. Complications include pneumonia, brain inflammation, convulsions, deafness, brain damage and death.

B.C.’s measles immunization catch-up campaign was delivered by the province’s health authorities, including Island Health. The campaign offered immunization clinics at schools and local public health units. As part of this outreach, Island Health contacted parents of eligible children who were not up-to-date for measles immunizations. The program provided immunizations for those kids who had not begun or not completed their series of immunizations. Families have embraced the opportunity to get up-to-date on their immunizations and more than 9,000 measles immunizations have been administered across the Island Health region since February 2019.

“We know from the overall numbers that we’re immunizing more children against measles in all the age categories compared to last year,” says Dr. Dee Hoyano, Medical Health Officer, Island Health. “Immunizing your child is one of the most important things you can do to protect their health. Parents are bringing their kids in to be immunized because they want them to stay healthy and to protect others from contracting a serious preventable illness.”

The voluntary program was intended to help parents report their child’s immunization status as well as catch up with getting their children protected. It will also help prepare parents for mandatory reporting of immunization status for school-aged children, which is planned for fall 2019. Details to be announced.

To prepare for mandatory reporting requirements this fall, here are steps you can take to follow up on immunizations for your children:

• If you don’t have a copy of your child’s immunization records, check immunizebc.ca/tips-locating-immunization-records for tips on locating the information.

• If past immunizations were provided by another health care provider, such as a family doctor, contact the office to request the information. Please note that parents of older children may not be able to request immunization records on their child’s behalf.

• If your children need immunization updates, check the immunization schedule for young children (aged 0-6) and school-aged children, available at immunizebc.ca/vaccine-schedules.

• Call your local health unit, family doctor or pharmacist (for children aged 5 and older) to confirm immunization availability and to book an appointment (you can sign up for appointment reminders at immunizebc.ca/reminders).

• If your child develops symptoms, please contact your health care provider before you visit your provider’s office so they can take precautions to prevent the transmission of measles to others.

Remember to bring your child’s care card or BC ID to the appointment. Also, please note that children and youth under 19 are able to consent to medical treatment, such as immunization, on their own as long as the health-care provider is sure the treatment is in the child’s best interest and the child understands the treatment, its risks and its benefits.

When you’re done, keep your immunization records in a secure location. You can also keep a digital record on an app, such as CANImmunize.

Want more info? Here’s a listing of some helpful resources:
• Call 8-1-1 for information anytime or visit healthlinkbc.ca
• Learn about measles at immunizebc.ca/measles
• For current measles updates, visit islandhealth.ca/measles-updates
You can also call one of our measles information lines:
• South Island: 250-544-7676 ext. 27545
• Nanaimo/Ladysmith/Gabriola: 250-755-3388
• Courtenay/Comox Valley: 250-331-8599
• Campbell River and area: 250-850-2120
• Mt. Waddington/Port Hardy: 250-902-6079
• For the Cowichan Valley, Alberni-Clayoquot and other communities not included above, please contact your local public health unit. Visit islandhealth.ca/our-locations/health-unit-locations for more information.

Measles catch-up at Island Health by the numbers:

• More than 9,000 measles immunizations administered between February and May 2019, which is double compared to the previous year.

• There are more than 93,000 students in the Island Health region (kindergarten to Grade 12); about 24 per cent of them have not completed their measles immunization series.

• 104,000 letters were sent home with students, April 2019.

Glenn Drexhage is a Population and Public Health Advisor with Island Health’s Communications, Planning and Partnerships team. He lives in Nanaimo with his young family, and has a background in journalism and communications.