Measles ban: Toronto school board makes exemption policy

Image copyright Centre for Disease Control Image caption A young child recieved the measles shot in Toronto in 2018

About 290 Canadian staff at Toronto’s public school board will receive vaccinations because they live in the same neighbourhoods where they work.

The Toronto District School Board, which educates about 416,000 students and 2,000 staff, said it would move forward with the work with the York Region Health Unit despite public protests.

The vaccinations would protect staff from measles as well as other diseases.

Measles, mumps and rubella vaccines are normally given to children at 12 and 18 months of age.

They should be given to everyone who lives within a 15-mile (24-km) radius of where they work, and to visitors, including children, who arrive in those neighbourhoods, too.

In an interview with CBC Radio, the board’s CEO, Naheed Nenshi, argued that vaccinations had effectively eradicated measles in the city.

“What we are going to see is that, what we did not do, is to immunise everyone in a geographic zone, like a school board, like Toronto Community Housing, which is the body that’s having this conversation, so that people do not have a misconception that the board has gone rogue,” he said.

“The board of the Toronto Community Housing has agreed to do it.”

Why this is controversial

In the interview, Mr Nenshi spoke of the popular theory that an unidentified animal carried the measles virus into Toronto, and that a virus from that animal somehow reached the school board.

Those theories are named after David McCandless, a microbiologist who publishes vaccine-related information on the website VaccineTruth.com, and Richard Patterson, a researcher and author who blogs on Grist.com.

On the website, Mr McCandless writes that several groups were responsible for “widespread measles cases” in Toronto in 2015, that numerous people thought it was God’s plan, and that death threats had been received by the school board.

The latter are referred to as the measles “spike”, suggesting that the health unit over-reacted to an outbreak in January.

“Evidence shows that the recent surge in measles cases is very likely unrelated to any conspiracy theory,” the agency wrote in an email.

It has not yet publicly commented on the controversy surrounding the decision to offer vaccine exemptions.

Children, school board staff and school district employees who live within the approved “zones” are not affected by the exemption policy.

But those who don’t meet the criteria can do so without fear of losing their jobs or any benefits as a condition of employment.

What does it mean for the people it affects?

Toronto Public Health does not require people living within the vaccinated area to accept repeated infectious disease vaccinations.

The rationale is that if people are vaccinated once, then they will be more likely to get the second vaccinations.

In people who do live in the unprotected zone and who don’t get vaccinated, there could be a risk of being infected.

In the school district, that risk is lessened because most parents who send their children to school said they wanted them to be protected from certain diseases, and because many of those children already get the vaccines, according to the university medicine’s London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Those parents included many doctors and nurses who were “not concerned or were not clear in why they weren’t planning to vaccinate”, said the group’s senior researcher, Simon Demirjian.

What is the Toronto Community Housing?

Image copyright Getty Images Image caption TCHC boss Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker said he would not have a problem with TCHC staff who refused the vaccine

The City of Toronto and the TCHC work together, he added.

The TCHC, made up of nearly 80,000 city-owned units, was established as a corporation in 1935.

Its top administrator, Mayor John Tory, told reporters the board’s decision was “not based on an accusation or lack of evidence” and had “absolutely nothing to do with vaccine refusal”.

The homes of approximately 27,000 TCHC tenants are within the 15-mile radius. About 12,000 of those live within the city of Toronto’s “zone”.

There are 1,400 children under the age of five in the homes. The health unit did not identify any deaths connected to the outbreak.

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