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British Columbia implemented the new mandatory immunization reporting program after the global measles outbreaks last spring.Rafal Gerszak/The Globe and Mail

Parents who decline to vaccinate their school-age children will be required to speak with public health staff as part of a new mandatory immunization reporting program beginning this school year.

Students who have not been vaccinated will also be asked to stay home for 21 days – the amount of time it could take for a measles rash to appear – in the event of an outbreak.

British Columbia implemented the program after the global measles outbreaks last spring. Among B.C. residents, there have been at least 31 confirmed cases of measles since the beginning of 2019.

Education Minister Rob Fleming said more than 30,000 school-age children have been immunized since the launch of a catch-up campaign in April.

“Our hope is that most parents coming back into the school system will have absolutely nothing to do; their records are known, there is co-ordination between the ministries of health and education on having complete records, and most parents won’t have to do a thing,” Mr. Fleming said on Wednesday.

“That will allow us to focus on parents that have incomplete or missing records for their child or children in the school system.”

Mr. Fleming said the ministry will work with school districts to connect parents with either on-site or community-based clinics to educate them on what opportunities they have to complete their vaccination records.

Meribeth Burton, a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Health, said the ministry expects some people have concerns, while others may have simply forgotten about their children’s immunization schedule.

“Nurses would answer their questions and explain the science and safety of vaccines," she wrote in an e-mail.

The mandatory reporting of students’ immunization statuses bolsters public health’s ability to respond to an outbreak as it allows health officials to quickly identify those who are underimmunized or not immunized at all, according to the ministry.

Measles spreads through virus-laden droplets after an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Infection with the measles virus starts with a high fever, coughing, sneezing and red eyes, followed by a blotchy, painful rash that starts on the face and spreads to cover the whole body.

The disease can lead to complications such as ear infections, blindness, pneumonia and encephalitis, which is a swelling of the brain, and can be fatal.

The first shot of a combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine is usually given at 12 months of age, and the second between four and six years of age.

According to the BC Centre for Disease Control, 82 per cent of seven-year-olds had received both shots of the measles vaccine in 2018, down from 88 per cent in 2017 and 90 per cent in 2016.

With a report from The Canadian Press

Measles cases and deaths are on the rise and in many countries, it’s linked to falling vaccination rates. The World Health Organization has declared vaccine hesitancy as a top health threat in 2019. Dr. Natasha Crowcroft of Public Health Ontario discusses the importance of getting vaccinated and offers some reliable resources to be informed about measles and vaccinations.

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