Groups say hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children could fall below the cut-off date and need help
Hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren face making unnecessary trips to the doctor and receiving expensive vaccines in Canada’s largest city under an emergency government plan that has been fiercely opposed by some community leaders.
A devastating flu season has hit Ontario – the country’s most populous province – with an unusually high number of child deaths as many families spend their dwindling savings to pay medical bills.
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But the government says parents won’t be permitted to keep their children out of flu shot clinics this winter. The new policy calls for child-only shots to be available from November at 25 public locations and all over the province except in some rural areas.
A 5ft high sign reads: ‘Please do not leave your child to ride the school bus without health insurance.’ Photograph: Tim Storey/Canadian Press
To avoid the policy, parents could fall behind on immunization, leaving their children vulnerable to serious diseases. So a number of groups, including the Ontario Medical Association, have called on the government to make the policy permanent.
“It’s a high-risk contingency. Kids will be making unnecessary trips to the doctor or who would have gone get the vaccines will have to go back home,” said Dr. Vivienne Zell, president of the family medicine association.
She said if 400,000 children miss a critical vaccination for the flu, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children could fall below the cut-off date – and need help. That might mean extended hours at emergency departments or doctors’ offices and family support to fill doctor’s prescriptions, she said.
The bulk of flu vaccinations are not covered by health insurance. Vaccination also falls under Ontario’s supplementary medicare program, which covers children and adolescents who are under 18 years old.
In 2013, a bill was introduced that would require vaccinating children from the age of six months at government clinics. Health professionals and community groups estimated that nearly one million children would be vaccinated under the plan.
Ottawa shuts down hospitals over winter flu scare Read more
Bill 41 failed to pass, but fuelled intense arguments about whether parental choice should trump public health needs.
“The medical profession and parents know their kids better than anyone else,” Jeff Jedras, the former head of a school for at-risk children, told a forum. He said the program would be poor public health and bad family planning.
A letter was written by local doctors urging Premier Doug Ford’s government to make the policy permanent. They blamed poor planning for the program and decried a “cost blowout”, including a costly bus.
The city says it has made arrangements for children in need of an emergency exemption. “People are using a one-time financial assistance to do their duty and protect their children,” said Maria Minna, a spokesperson for Toronto district school board, which oversees the city’s more than 640,000 public school students.