No plans to see students prove immunization record in Nunavut: health minister

“We’re following the letter of the law … that we’re not infringing upon peoples’ human rights”

Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes says the territory doesn’t plan to ask students to provide proof of vaccination before they enter the school system. There have been no cases of measles in Nunavut since its creation in 1999, but recently two cases of measles were noted in the Northwest Territories town of Inuvik. (Photo by John Thompson)

By Jane George

Nunavut finally has a way of electronically tracking childhood immunizations, but children entering the territory’s school system still won’t have to prove they have been protected against measles and other infectious diseases.

That’s the takeaway from an exchange in the legislature on Wednesday, May 29, between Nunavut Health Minister George Hickes and former health minister Pat Angnakak, the MLA for Iqaluit-Niaqunnguu.

The discussion took place against the background of an increased number of measles cases in Canada, with more than 50 cases reported by Quebec, British Columbia, the Northwest Territories, Ontario, Alberta and New Brunswick.

In response to questioning from Angnakak, Hickes said Nunavut plans to “continue with our immunization program as it has been going.”

This means children are assessed when they are entering daycares, but not when they enter school, he said.

Nunavut is worried that making immunization mandatory could be a human rights violation, Hickes said.

Ontario and New Brunswick have already moved in that direction, asking for proof of immunization from all entering students.

But Hickes said Nunavut wants to make sure immunizations are available and, at the same time, “to make sure that we’re following the letter of the law to make sure when we mandate something, that we’re not infringing upon people’s human rights.”

Children in Nunavut get a measles, mumps, rubella and chickenpox vaccination at 12 months and then again at 18 months.

But the transition away from paper records is so recent that it seems clear that there can be no way to know exactly which children, or how many, have received immunizations.

A 2013 National Immunization Survey found a 61 per cent to 78 per cent immunization rate in Nunavut, but these numbers were based on the parents’ reports.

That falls short of the level of protection required to prevent a measles outbreak: health experts are in agreement that measles will spread unless about 95 per cent of the general population is immune.

That’s why the Canadian Pediatric Society said in 2018 that provinces and territories should be required to establish electronic immunization registries, with online records for all children being readily accessible to health care providers, and parents should be notified automatically when their child is overdue for an immunization.

“Providing accurate immunization records should be mandatory for school entry,” the society said. “Such records are invaluable for public health authorities when outbreaks occur.”

It also recommends a school-based immunization program be provided at least once during each school year.

Immunizations are not mandatory in Canada, but proof of immunization is required for children and adolescents to attend school in Ontario and New Brunswick, and other jurisdictions are now looking at changing their policies on immunization.

“We will continue to follow the best practices with immunization of all of our population,” Hickes said, putting the responsibility on Nunavut residents “to make sure you check your immunization schedule to make sure you’ve participated.”

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(21) Comments:

  1. Posted by Get Real! on

    Really?! Considering that Nunavut has the highest rates of, like, everything communicable, and that everyone I’ve spoken to thinks vaccinations should be mandatory, exactly who’s needs is the Minister fulfilling?
    Don’t humour anti-vaxxers at the cost of the public health! They have no scientific proof that the dangers of vaccines outweigh the benefits.
    What about my kids’ rights to not get the damn measles!!??

    • Posted by You get real, 21st century on

      How can you think it’s ok to force people things in their kids bodies if they don’t want to? This is the 21st century.. there are human rights! My god, sounds like the States with banning abortions. People have a right to their own bodies. Get yourself and your kids vaccinated and keep your kids healthy with nutritional, whole foods and you’ll be fine. There are many different reasons people don’t get vaccinated and some are medical.

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Yep, good point, and if these unvaccinated threats the health and safety of the greater society want to participate in public life by going to school, then they get vaccinated, if not, they can seek education elsewhere, perhaps you can home school them. Keep these threats away from my grand kids and all will be good. Those with legitimate medical concerns are in a different category of course.

        • Posted by yup on

          aren’t your grand kids vaccinated? if so, stop worrying. + keep them healthy and they should be fine. Vaccinations are important but so are human rights.

          sorry, its the 21st century.

          • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

            They are, but one has childhood leukemia. Even with her childhood vaccinations her immune system is seriously compromised from the treatments so she is susceptible formerly common childhood ailments like measles. She catches everything, and I do mean everything, unvaccinated disease carriers are a threat to her health.

            You’re right, it is the 21st century. About time for all to become a responsible members of society, don’t you think?

          • Posted by iThink on

            To ‘yup’: you seem to imply that the right to not be vaccinated is a ‘human right’. But if that is so, it begs a much broader question as to what counts as a human right. The conception you bring to the table seems radically libertarian, but even a libertarian would agree that an individuals rights include the right not to have their life and freedoms infringed upon by others. Vaccination is not only for personal protection, it is also for the protection of a community. Which supersedes which? And why?

  2. Posted by Raging Granny on

    Scary health care. What about my “right” to not be exposed to illnesses? How many medivacs is this going to cost?

  3. Posted by iThink on

    “Nunavut is worried that making immunization mandatory could be a human rights violation”

    That’s what you say? I say the Government of Nunavut is incompetent and unable to implement anything that looks like a comprehensive or rigorous program of any type on any issue, and this inertia is facilitated by a profound moral cowardice.

    We all have our opinions I suppose.

  4. Posted by AL on

    Preventive early childhood care is abandoned in Nunavut. It’s a wasteland of under resourcing, under concern and lack of long term planning for the future. The lack of transition planning or systemic structure from preschool to school is going to cost so much in the future as more children enter school not properly screened, monitored, prepared. Lack of immunization education, support, mandating, tracking, charting along with lack of vision, hearing, FASD screenings along with lack of daycares. Talk all you like about IQ: in the end we are judged on failing to do well by our children.

    • Posted by Bingo on

      “Talk all you like about IQ”

      Exactly, it’s recited like some religious koan that has long become devoid of any real meaning.

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        Yep, completely meaningless, more practiced in the breach.

        • Posted by A True Story on

          I’ve seen it first hand in my work place, where the upper management is all Inuit. No regard for so called IQ values at all, just a very weak and insecure dictatorship, though only barely competent in this case. Either way, we can take all the IQ BS off the walls now, you’re fooling anyone.

          • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

            Ha, love it, ‘insecure dictatorship’ seems to be the management style of choice among so many in Nunavut. Now, if we could just get folks moving beyond management and into leadership, maybe we could see improvement.

        • Posted by A True Story on

          I’ve seen it first hand in my work place, where the upper management is all Inuit. No regard for so called IQ values at all, just a very weak and insecure dictatorship, though only barely competent in this case. Either way, we can take all the IQ BS off the walls now, you’re not fooling anyone.

  5. Posted by Dougie on

    The earth is flat and vaccination causes you to get sick, I know this because I read it somewhere and I believe it.

    • Posted by Charlie Cahill on

      I received my first ever vaccination (flu shot) in Gjoa Haven in 2009 and was paralyzed for 3 years. I was in a wheelchair most of that time and paralyzed from the neck down for several months. It is a known side effect of the flu shot called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, and every vaccination out there has side effects. The government of Canada pays nothing towards the cost of treatment for those with vaccine injury, would the Dept of Health sign a document to cover medical bills for me or my kids who get paralyzed from a forced vaccination… i think not.

      • Posted by Israel MacArthur on

        That is no doubt extremely distressing, but the research does not show a direct connection between flu shots and GB, so why would the government pay out?

        • Posted by Charlie on

          There is a well documented connection between flu shots and Guillain Barre, with every flu vaccine in the world. In Canada GlaxoSmith Kline put out the flu vaccine (Arepanrix) in 2009 and their brochure states 1 in 10,000 vaccinations will cause Guillain Barre Syndrome. its all online, and on the drug companies website, check it out. GBS is a common side effect of flu shots and 10% of GBS is fatal. I know I dodged a bullet with my flu vaccination side effect.

  6. Posted by Taqualuraiit on

    Minister Hickes, you should be ashamed of yourself as the Minister of HEALTH, that considering we’re so underserved with vaccinations in our territory, you still decide to take this stance!

    If there’s a measles outbreak, it’ll be on YOUR conscience, assuming you have one.

  7. Posted by The Old Trapper on

    I believe in the science, vaccines work. I would urge everyone to get vaccinated, get your children vaccinated, and keep your vaccinations up to date.

    I cannot however sanction mandatory vaccinations as it violates the sanctity of the person. In essence it is the state mandating that you undergo a medical procedure, which has a risk. The risk of a major complication is very small, but not zero, and it may result in death. From what I can ascertain this would be a one in a million occurrence. Just to clarify, getting autism from a vaccination is not true.

    Now keeping a child out of public or private school is another issue and I believe a “public good” case could be made to support this viewpoint.

  8. Posted by Rita on

    Both Ontario and New Brunswick have exemptions to vaccinations for school entry. There are no mandatory shots in either province. Vaccination remains and should be voluntary in Canada as it is a medical procedure with the potential for harm – informed consent must be obtained, not forced.

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