Vaccines delayed in schools as public health focuses on COVID-19 shots

School-based vaccination programs operated by Island Health on the south Island are being delayed as public health nurses focus on delivering COVID-19 vaccines.

“Some school-based immunization opportunities previously scheduled for January and early February 2021 have been postponed,” an Island Health spokesman said in an email to the Times Colonist. “We will communicate this directly to affected schools.”

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The health authority said the goal is to reschedule the affected clinics before the end of the school year, adding: “The Medical Health Officer is confident that a short delay does not pose a significant risk to a child’s health.”

“If a vaccine is delayed or missed, it’s never too late to catch up, regardless of the time that has passed between doses.”

At independent Maria Montessori Academy in Saanich, a letter went out to parents last week to say school-based clinics would be deferred to a later date.

Grade 9 students had been due to receive a vaccine that protects against infection from meningococcal bacteria, as well as the Tdap vaccine, which protects against tetanus, diptheria and pertussis. Grade 6 students, meanwhile, can receive the hepatitis B, chickenpox and human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines through school-based clinics.

Saanich School District Supt. Dave Eberwein said school vaccination clinics were also delayed in his district.

Eberwein said he’s been advised the delay will not have any negative health implications and is temporary to allow public health staff to answer the immediate call to administer COVID-19 vaccines. He said the district has not received any information on when the school-based clinics will resume.

Island Health said the delays won’t affect immunizations for infants and children up to age five through public health units.

The health authority said the decision to delay the school-based and adolescent clinics first is based on guidance from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control.

Greater Victoria and Sooke school districts could not be immediately reached Friday.

The B.C. Health Ministry could not say on Friday whether the postponement of school-based vaccination clinics is provincewide.

Vaccinations are not mandatory in schools, but there is a mandatory registration requirement in both public and private schools. Parents and guardians must submit a student’s immunization records with a school to provide proof of vaccination.

The requirement came into effect after a measles outbreak in early 2019 prompted a petition calling for mandatory vaccines in B.C. schools, with medical exceptions.

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