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Unvaccinated students start receiving suspension orders from Algoma Public Health

After months of warnings, APH begins mailing out suspension orders for 4,000 students whose immunization records for polio, measles and other diseases are not up to date
20190227-Algoma Public Health winter stock shot-DT
Algoma Public Health at 294 Willow Ave. Darren Taylor/SooToday

Algoma Public Health has started sending out approximately 4,000 school suspension orders to parents and guardians in the Sault and Algoma District whose children's immunization records are not up to date.

The letters say children will be suspended from school for 20 days if they do not catch up on the required vaccines, or obtain the necessary exemption forms.

The new round of letters comes after initial warning letters were mailed out by the local public health in July 2023, followed by reminder letters this January and a Feb. 28 news release. (To view a sample suspension order, click here.)

Letters are being sent out by Algoma Public Health at staggered dates over the next few weeks.

"Some families will receive a notification this week from APH,” wrote Lucia Reece, Algoma District School Board director of education, in an email to SooToday.

Reece said the ADSB is working to inform parents that once they make an appointment to have their child vaccinated by APH or a primary care provider — even if the appointment is past the date of suspension — their child will be removed from the mandatory suspension list and be able to attend school.

“The pandemic delayed routine immunizations and now we are working to catch students up on their immunizations,” wrote Dr. John Harding, Algoma Public Health public health physician, in an email to SooToday.

Parents and guardians receiving a letter and suspension order will have time to arrange a vaccine appointment and report this information to APH in order to avoid suspension, Harding confirmed.

“APH recognizes that there are currently difficulties in accessing healthcare providers and we will not suspend students if parents or guardians inform APH that a plan is in place for immunization," Harding wrote. "If you have an appointment at your healthcare provider or at APH, you must call APH to be removed from the suspension list. Due to high demand, appointments at APH clinics may not be available until after your suspension date."

Vaccination appointments can be made by calling Algoma Public Health at 705-759-5409 or toll-free at 1-866-892-0172, ext. 5409.

Parents who have a healthcare provider can make an appointment with them.

After the appointment, parents are instructed to submit their child’s vaccination record to APH.

Under the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA), all children and adolescents under the age of 18 attending elementary or secondary school must be immunized with Ontario’s required vaccines, or have a valid immunization exemption on file with APH.

The mandatory vaccines are:

  • Diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio (available in a combination vaccine: (Adacel-Polio, Adacel)
  • Measles, mumps, rubella, varicella (available in a combination vaccine: (Priorix-Tetra, ProQuad)
  • Meningococcal disease (12 months to 12 years of age: (Menjugate, Liquid NeisVac-C; Grade 7 vaccines Menactra, Menveo, Nimenrix)
  • Varicella for children born in 2010 or later (Varilrix, Varivax)

Students do not need to have the COVID-19 vaccine or the seasonal flu vaccine in order to attend school. Neither are mandatory.

“Vaccines are critical to help safeguard our schools as well as entire communities by mitigating the spread of preventable diseases, making vaccination one of the most impactful and cost-effective primary care interventions to protect our communities. Every member of our community benefits when a child is vaccinated,” Harding wrote.

“Vaccines are safe and decades of use has shown the ability of vaccines to protect against disease and severe illness. They have worked so well, they have eradicated serious diseases and prevented serious illness for decades. Without vaccines our communities are put at risk of these diseases returning.”

There are two types of vaccine exemptions available to parents who don't want their children to receive these immunizations.

One is a Statement of Medical Exemption form, which can be found online. This form must be completed and signed by a physician or nurse practitioner, stating the reason for the medical exemption.

Parents can also go online to obtain a Statement of Conscience or Religious Belief exemption, which must be signed by a commissioner for taking affidavits. Under this scenario, parents must watch a vaccine education video.

Parents can update their child’s immunization information by using one of the following options:

  • The APH online reporting tool.
  • In person: bring a copy of your child’s immunization record to an APH location during business hours.
  • By phone: Call your local public health office in Sault Ste. Marie at 705-759-5409 (the Sault APH office is currently experiencing a high volume of calls. Please leave a message and someone will return your call within one to two business days), Blind River at 705-356-2551, Elliot Lake at 705-848-2314, Wawa at 705-856-7208 
  • Fax a copy of your child’s record to 705-541-5959
  • Mail a copy of your child’s record to Algoma Public Health, Attention: Immunization Program at 294 Willow Avenue Sault Ste. Marie, ON P6B 0A9
  • Email: (Include child’s name and date of birth in the email) 

Parents are reminded that if they are sending APH personal information by email to be aware that electronic communication is not always secure and can be intercepted.

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Darren Taylor

About the Author: Darren Taylor

Darren Taylor is a news reporter and photographer in Sault Ste Marie. He regularly covers community events, political announcements and numerous board meetings. With a background in broadcast journalism, Darren has worked in the media since 1996.
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