Doctors are calling for an end to loopholes that allow parents in some provinces to opt-out of vaccinating their kids.
Three Canadian provinces have laws that demand children be vaccinated if they’re going to school, but there’s wiggle room for certain religious or philosophical objections on the part of parents.
Now, the Canadian Medical Association wants that to stop.
LISTEN: Dr. Tommy Gerschman explains the CMA’s new position
Currently, Ontario, Manitoba, and New Brunswick have mandatory vaccination laws.
Dr. Tommy Gerschman is a pediatric rheumatologist, and board member with Doctors of B.C., and says there was healthy debate at the CMA’s annual meeting on the topic, resulting in a 58% vote in support of scrapping the exemptions.
He says looking around at other jurisdictions with mandatory vaccinations, it’s clear Canadian provinces are lagging.
“Often they come with these non-medical exemptions that can be allowed. And we see that in places where its easier to get those non medical exemptions, the rates of vaccination are lower.”
Gershcman says letting parents opt out because of their religious or philosophical beliefs “sort of defeats the purpose” of the laws, which is to protect kids, and hopes the recommendation carries some weight with decision makers.
“I think it’s something that legislators can use. They can look to us as one of the major medical bodies in Canada. And so when they’re discussing legislation about what to allow and what not to allow, they have a clear stance now that they can fall back on.”
He adds that for jurisdictions like B.C. where vaccination isn’t mandatory, the recommendation will also make it clear to legislators where doctors stand on the issue.
Gerschman says the move isn’t meant to be aggressive towards parents, and says there’s still a big role for education.
He says it’s always worth having conversations with parents who are “vaccine hesitant” because they either don’t know the science, or have worries about the timing or quantity of vaccines their kids receive.
“Certainly for those, I think there’s good evidence that having informed discussions with them can improve the rates of vaccination, but I think what we were trying to do yesterday is to sort of say that the policy should be where there’s mandatory vaccinations, it should be mandatory for anyone who doesn’t have a medical exemption.”
But he says provinces’ lax rules aren’t working to get vaccination rates where doctors think they need to be, and that Canada needs to take a page from the book of jurisdictions like California that have cracked down on exemptions.
Gerschman says at the end of the day its about making sure schools are a safe environment for all kids.
He says there are children who have a legitimate medical reason they can’t be vaccinated… and those kids are at risk if they’re at school with un-vaccinated classmates.
“These kids, when there’s an outbreak in school, measles for example, these kids have to stay home from school. And so I think we need to make the school environment as safe as possible for all of the children.”