Officials call for many locations to be issued with certificates that would require child to be vaccinated before returning
Several Ontario municipalities have asked the provincial government to issue them with a “vaccination passport” that would ensure thousands of unvaccinated children who travel to Mexico, along with those traveling elsewhere in the world, must submit themselves for a trip to a doctor before returning to Ontario.
At the request of five town and city councils, Ontario’s Health Ministry is set to hold meetings in Cambridge, Caledon, Fitzroy Harbour, Maitland and Niagara’s Avalon to discuss the potential issue that arose in December, following the first outbreak of whooping cough in Ontario in nearly a century.
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At the time, Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, announced measures to reduce outbreaks and encourage vaccinations, citing the “negligence of some who choose not to vaccinate their children against preventable diseases”. The measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine costs about $50, though shots are recommended for children at 12 to 15 months old, and again by five to 12 years old.
Ontario includes a northern section that has recently seen outbreaks, and has been declared free of measles by the World Health Organization.
However, cities and municipalities are seeking to provide residents with an “umbrella” of coverage for vulnerable individuals, especially those who travel internationally.
“The potential of a national policy of vaccinations for these groups, now that we have the authorization to do that, is something that municipalities should do,” said Colin Edwards, member of the board of directors for the Brampton Health District, a municipality in the Greater Toronto Area with about 18,000 residents.
The Ontario health minister, Helena Jaczek, said in a statement that Ontario’s government is committed to “protecting communities from preventable diseases”, and will have further discussions on the issue in the coming weeks.
“We take health conditions seriously and are pleased to see the municipalities taking a proactive role in supporting their residents,” Jaczek said.
However, a report in the Canadian News Network suggests governments in Ontario are short of funds to fund vaccination programs on their own.
Jaczek offered a $25m grant to the province’s health minister last month, to battle the influenza strain that caused Ontario’s first reported “flu epidemic” in the Toronto area since 2016. The grant is in addition to a $25m federal contribution.
Canadian officials made the decision earlier this week to implement the country’s first blanket quarantine for visitors visiting the United States after cases of a highly contagious strain of measles were reported in B.C. and Washington state, and Arkansas, Oklahoma and Nebraska.
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Some jurisdictions have supported vaccinations in the US through medical and workplace mandates. In Minnesota, a series of mandatory vaccines were enacted by the state in 2004 after several well-publicized outbreaks of diseases, most notably measles, which many argued were being caused by parents opting their children out of receiving vaccinations.
In Ontario, the Health Minister is taking a far more skeptical approach than her colleagues in the US. Jaczek has called the spread of “vaccine hesitancy” a “public health concern” but also says she’s concerned Ontario would see a rise in the number of children who are unvaccinated if Ontario shifted to a mandatory vaccination policy.
Quebec and Canada’s provinces of Ontario, British Columbia, Manitoba and Nova Scotia adopted a vaccination mandate in 2012 after the height of a measles outbreak in the province. More recently, a measles outbreak in California left at least 136 cases.
Like the town and city councils in Ontario, Nova Scotia does not offer vaccination waivers for children in its public school system.
Quebec’s vaccination requirement stands at a hefty $15. Last week, the state assembly agreed to allow parents to opt out of vaccines for conscientious reasons in certain cases.
The long-standing bans in the other provinces have lead to arguments that the vaccine mandates violate children’s constitutional rights, with many parents deciding against vaccinations for philosophical or religious reasons.