Survey shows two-thirds of parents in Toronto may be withholding their kids’ vaccines

Canada’s largest teaching union released a survey this week that found that two-thirds of parents of elementary school-aged children in Toronto may have withheld vaccinations from their kids without due reason — a phenomenon that, if confirmed, could spark legal action against the city.

The survey conducted by the Toronto District School Board — which represents the teachers’ unions at almost half of the city’s public schools — found that 67 percent of parents reported being “certain or somewhat likely” to get a child vaccinated against the flu, and 58 percent reported the same for measles. About 37 percent of parents of children up to Grade 3 and 33 percent of those from Grade 4 said they were in favor of getting a child vaccinated for pneumococcal disease, a strain of bacteria that is easily spread among humans.

Vaccines for measles, for example, can only be licensed for use in the country if they receive 90 percent of all of the inoculations required for kids to get them.

Fifty-four percent of parents of children of elementary school age said they had not given their children vaccinations for pneumococcal disease, while only 38 percent of parents of children aged 5 to 12 said they had not given a child pneumonia vaccines.

Vaccines for measles, for example, can only be licensed for use in the country if they receive 90 percent of all of the inoculations required for kids to get them. That is one reason why, according to the head of the Ontario Nurses Association, the findings are so alarming: “This report reveals a large number of parents willing to put the health of our children and communities at risk by failing to provide the appropriate immunizations,” said Heather MacGregor.

While the findings don’t necessarily suggest that parents have “reached the point of no return” on this issue, as some experts have said, they do help illustrate the pervasive reluctance among Canadians to vaccinate their children, often resulting in outbreaks that have plagued children around the world.

According to 2016 figures from Public Health Ontario, vaccination coverage rates in Toronto’s elementary schools were hovering around the 92 percent mark for measles — about half the 95 percent of coverage required to keep the virus from spreading. With regard to the strains of influenza that afflicted Toronto children — most notably, the influenza strain known as COVID-19, which has afflicted U.S. children in particular — only 54 percent of them were fully vaccinated.

Without sufficient immunization coverage, not only can children get sick or die, but also it can make their classmates and schoolmates at risk of falling ill — which would, in turn, put that other person at risk.

“In other words, a child’s failure to receive the immunizations required for a safe and healthy life puts everyone in the school, including other students and teachers, at risk for severe illness, and contributes to the spread of the flu,” Prof. Joshua Weisser of University of Toronto’s Department of Psychiatry explained to The Globe and Mail.

The Data

The survey asked parents of kindergarten through Grade 3 students, as well as those with kids in grade 4, and all grades in between, about their experiences in opting out of vaccinating their children. The survey, which was conducted in partnership with Johnson and Wales University, used a survey that covered 1,200 respondents across all five public schools in the city.

The survey was open only to parents of children with the TDSB: those who have received — or live — in Toronto, are registered with the school board or are parents who had their child admitted to the school.

Full methodology and results are here.

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