One Less Thing to Worry About

As families prepare to face an unprecedented and unpredictable school year, there is still time to make sure that children and youth are up to date on their immunizations. Unfortunately, we do not have a vaccine against COVID-19 yet, but living through a pandemic has accentuated the role that immunization plays in inducing immunity that allows us to socialize and carry on activities like singing in a choir or sharing a meal. Immunizations enhance and boost our natural defences that keep us safe from intruders like bacteria and viruses.

The Immunization of School Pupils Act mandates that students are fully protected against diseases like polio, pertussis and measles that can spread quickly and threaten lives and futures. Each year, local public health agencies like Peterborough Public Health review our records and send reminders to parents and guardians if a student is overdue for an immunization. Without a provincial immunization registry that would allow doctors and nurses to record each vaccine electronically each time it is administered, we rely on parents to call in or enter the data each time their child is immunized. It is not surprising that existing records are often missing information and that most of the time, it’s the immunization record, and not the child, that needs updating.

With COVID-19 creating a strong impetus for better data collection and access, perhaps we will come out on the other side of this pandemic with an electronic immunization record. Ideally, it will be available for us just in time for the mass immunization that will need to be undertaken to bring the pandemic under control. In the meantime, parents who receive a reminder should act quickly, before the school suspension deadline, to check with their family doctor or Nurse Practitioner to determine whether or not an immunization is required.

Previously immunized children between the ages of four to six years will need two boosters to ensure immunity against eight different diseases and high school students must again boost their tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis immunity 10 years later. Tetanus spores can be found in the soil here in Peterborough, and even those of us who are no longer in school need a booster every 10 years in order to prevent acquiring this life-threatening and painful disease. Immunizations are considered an essential service and your family physician or Nurse Practitioner can provide you with an appointment, even during this pandemic.

For families without a health care provider, our Routine Immunization Clinic can provide the required vaccines and enter them directly into the child’s immunization record we use to track and issue reminders.

In Ontario, vaccine safety is monitored and reported annually by Public Health Ontario. This is possible because any health care provider that administers a vaccine is obligated to report any side effects to their local medical officer of health. Each report is investigated by our team of Infectious Disease nurses and entered in the provincial database if it meets the criteria for an “adverse event”. As Peterborough’s Medical Officer of Health, I review each one and can provide advice regarding the safety of future immunizations, or refer the patient for additional assessments or investigations if necessary. In 2018, there were 8.6 million publicly funded vaccines administered in Ontario. In total, there were 742 adverse events reported, the vast majority being mild, with pain and swelling at the injection site being the most common. This surveillance provides us with the confidence to recommend immunization as one of the most safe and effective ways to protect ourselves and our families. With all the uncertainty and fear that COVID-19 has created, ensuring that everyone is up to date with their vaccines is one less thing to worry about!

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For more information about Dr. Salvaterra, her bio is available on this webpage:

http://www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca/about-us/medical-officer-of-health/