Health minister rules out mandatory vaccinations in B.C., but mulls registry

B.C.’s health minister won’t be crafting legislation to make measles vaccinations mandatory, despite a petition signed by more than 30,000 people in the wake of outbreaks in Vancouver and Washington state.

Instead, mandatory registration of vaccination status when children start school is under “active consideration,” Adrian Dix said. However, he made no commitment as to when or how such a measure might be implemented.

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Mandatory reporting is an idea that’s been kicked around before but never implemented through legislation.

“No jurisdiction [in Canada] has what’s called a forced system,” Dix said. “But I think we can do more.”

A petition calling for mandatory measles vaccinations for children attending public school in B.C. had almost 35,000 signatures on Wednesday evening.

Nine measles cases have been confirmed in Vancouver so far this year, and Washington state has declared a state of emergency due to a measles outbreak unfolding there.

Measles is a highly contagious airborne viral infection that spreads by coughing and sneezing. People are contagious for about five days before symptoms develop and then it presents like a flu before it develops into a rash. It is preventable with a measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine given in two doses.

The Vancouver cases are linked to an unvaccinated child who contracted the disease during a family trip to Vietnam, and provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry expects there will be more. People who came in contact with the infected individuals are being monitored.

Dix said even one case of measles is considered an outbreak in public health.

“I think we need to take steps in the future, but the step we can all take right now is to have children immunized, and that’s what I’m encouraging everyone to do,” he said.

“We have a universal immunization system in B.C. now, and the important thing — what we need to do — is to take the steps to make sure more people are immunized.

Ontario and New Brunswick have what is basically mandatory registration at school entry, Dix said.

In Ontario, children who attend primary or secondary school must be immunized against several diseases, including measles, unless they have an exemption for medical reasons or due to conscience or religious belief. Parents must provide proof of immunization, and children who are not immunized may be removed from school during an outbreak.

Asked about why he offered no commitment or timeline for mandatory reporting, Dix said certain procedures must be in place first.

On Monday, Henry, who also advocates for mandatory reporting rather than mandatory vaccinations, said: “I think the simplest way to do it … is we could enact legislation that makes [reporting] a requirement at school entry.”

Island Health said no cases of measles have been reported on Vancouver Island.

The last outbreak in B.C. was in the Fraser Valley in 2014, Dix said. “That area of the province now has one of the higher immunization rates in the province.”

ceharnett@timescolonist.com

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