As the summer sun wanes and the next school year starts, Vancouver Island parents will have plenty to prepare. In addition to replenishing school supplies and updating their children’s wardrobes, parents also need to know about immunization reporting that will be required for school-aged kids.

Starting in September 2019, parents and guardians will be expected to provide public health units with immunization records for students enrolled in the provincial school system. This provincial government policy, called the Vaccination Status Reporting Regulation, will apply to K-12 students in public and independent schools, along with registered homeschoolers.

Mandatory reporting increases public health’s ability to respond during an outbreak. It also prompts parents to ensure that their kids are up-to-date with their immunizations, and provides public health officials with an opportunity to connect with families about the importance of immunization for the health of their children and communities.

“There is plenty that parents can do ahead of time to prepare for the new school year and the reporting requirement,” says Dee Hoyano, Medical Health Officer at Island Health. “Parents should ensure they have an up-to-date copy of their child’s immunization record—it’s vital health information that everyone should have. Most importantly, we encourage parents to ensure that their children are immunized so they can stay healthy and happy, and also prevent others from becoming ill with a serious but preventable illness.”

Most parents already have immunization records at their public health unit; as a result, they are compliant with the upcoming reporting requirement and won’t need to do anything further. Parents or guardians whose children have an incomplete or missing record will be contacted by public health about providing their immunization information. If your children require immunizations, you’ll also receive information about where they can get them.

Steps you can take to prepare for the upcoming reporting requirement:
• 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 or pharmacist, contact them 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 and school-aged children, available at immunizebc.ca/vaccine-schedules.

• If you believe your child needs to be immunized, contact your local public health unit to book an appointment: islandhealth.ca/our-locations/health-unit-locations.

• You can sign up for appointment reminders at immunizebc.ca/reminders.

• Remember to bring your child’s care card or BC ID to an appointment. Also, please note that older 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.
For more on the reporting requirement, please visit healthlinkbc.ca/vaccination-status-reporting.

Catching up on the catch-up program
Earlier this year, the BC government launched a measles immunization catch-up program as part of an effort to ensure that all school-age kids—from kindergarten through Grade 12—were up-to-date with their immunizations. The voluntary program also helped parents prepare for mandatory reporting.

There have been measles cases reported in Canada and several countries are experiencing outbreaks. In BC, 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. If your child develops symptoms, please contact your health-care provider before visiting their office so they can take precautions to prevent the transmission of measles to others.

The catch-up program was delivered by the province’s health authorities, including Island Health. The program 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. Immunizations were provided for those kids who had not begun or not completed their series. Families have embraced the opportunity to get up-to-date on their immunizations and more than 11,000 measles immunizations have been administered across the Island Health region since February 2019. Please see the end of this article for some key highlights.

For the latest update on the province’s measles immunization catch-up program, please visit news.gov.bc.ca/releases/2019HLTH0109-001523.

Island Health talked to teens to get their perspective on why it is important to get immunized. Find out what they said at vimeo.com/343535226

Measles catch-up at Island Health by the numbers:
• More than 5,300 measles immunizations administered to school-aged children from January 1 to June 30, 2019

• More than 11,000 measles immunizations administered to all people between February and June 2019, which is double compared to the same time period in 2018

• As part of the measles immunization catch-up program, public health officials have reviewed student records and followed up with parents/guardians. More than 9,000 school-aged children have their information in the provincial immunization registry, an increase of 836 students from April 1 to June 30, 2019.

• 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

• More than 1,000 hours of immunization clinics for K-12 children from April to June 2019.

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 contact your local public health unit, visit islandhealth.ca/our-locations/health-unit-locations for more information.

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.