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Tuesday, 06 December 2016 08:00

Amendments to Public Health Act in Alberta, a way to increase immunization rates in children

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Provincial government officials are looking to increase immunization rates, especially in students, with amendments to the Public Health Act. In November, Bill 28 was introduced in the provincial Legislature.


“These amendments are aimed at increasing our immunization rates and protecting children from diseases like measles or whooping cough — diseases that are prevented with vaccines,” said Sarah Hoffman, minister of health in a news release.
“We’ll be better equipped to respond to outbreaks and public health officials will have more ability to provide information to families about the importance of vaccination.”
According to the news release, proposed amendments to the Public Health Act are intended to facilitate more efficient:
• collection of student enrolment information to help identify students with incomplete immunization records;
• contact with parents of students who do not have complete immunization records so more information can be requested, information about the benefits of immunization and risks of not immunizing can be shared and current policy requiring unimmunized students stay home if the event of an outbreak can be explained.
If students are missing immunization information, parents will be asked to provide the students’ immunization records; complete or update missing immunizations; provide a letter indicating a medical exemption has been granted or sign a form indicating choosing not to immunize the child.
If a child’s immunizations are not up-to-date, the expectation is that child will stay home if certain highly-contagious vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, occurs at his or her school.
The onus for immunizations of children and how it relates to schools has always been the burden of health officials, and not school officials.
“As of right now, we do not ask any questions on our registration forms that ask parents to identify if their child has been immunized,” explains Angela Baron, communications and FOIP co-ordinator for Prairie Rose School Division (PRSD).
“I have heard nothing from Public Service Alberta related to any required changes we would need to make in regards to this legislation as part of the school registration process ... it is (our) belief this will all be tracked by Alberta Health and not our schools.”
Public health officials are in schools three times a year and work closely with school administrators to plan for immunizations of students in grades 5 and 9.
The school’s only role is to be a location for those immunizations to take place.  Parents are mailed a consent form from Alberta Health and that form is returned.
Prairie Rose officials are supportive of the measures the government is taking to increase immunization rates in the province. Officials know that some parents are choosing not to immunize their children.
“This does present itself in schools with illnesses that can sweep quickly through a classroom and a school,” points out Superintendent Brian Andjelic. “This in turn, can lead to anxiety in children and adults when routines at school are disrupted. It also leads to decreased attendance and learning.”
PRSD officials know the best response is to control infection and that can often only be done by students staying home when they are ill, or illness is spreading in the school.
“There can be pressure to send sick children to school to avoid additional child care. When this happens, more children are infected,” says Andjelic. “The cycle of infection must be broken. While we have special cleaning procedures in these circumstances, the return of infected children, begins the infection cycle once again.”
There are immunizations that are done on a routine basis. That schedule is available online at: http://www.health.alberta.ca/health-info/imm-routine-schedule.html .
More information about Bill 28 is available online at: http://www.assembly.ab.ca/net/ index.aspx?p=bills_ status&selectbill=028&legl=29&session=2.
As of Nov. 10, it had passed first and season readings as well as Committee of the Whole.

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Rose Sanchez

Assistant Managing Editor