The B.C. government is launching a measles immunization catch-up program before mandatory reporting starts in schools in the fall.

The program will run from April through June 2019 in public-health units, community health centres and mobile community clinics in certain regions. Regional health authorities will run the program and pharmacists will also be involved.

“With outbreaks of measles occurring globally and here in B.C., we know we will see threats of further outbreaks and can be doing more to raise immunization rates,” Minister of Health Adrian Dix said.

“That is why we are launching a catch-up program to immunize children from kindergarten to Grade 12 who have not previously been immunized against measles and to provide a dose for those who may not have received both doses.”

Dix says provincial data from 2018 indicates 82 per cent of seven-year-olds in B.C. have been immunized against measles, a number he says needs improvement.

The B.C. government is buying $3 million of the measles vaccine – the equivalent of a one year supply of vaccine.  Without a record of immunization (or proof of immunity to a disease), a person is considered unimmunized and unprotected and should generally be immunized or reimmunized to ensure protection, the government said. It is safe to repeat immunizations.

The goal is to reach students who have never been vaccinated, but the program will also offer second-dose shots for students who have not completed the required schedule of two vaccinations.

Health authorities will be working with schools to notify parents of upcoming measles immunization catch-up clinics, information about measles and what to expect if a child needs a measles immunization.

Health authorities will also contact families with under or unimmunized children through a variety of actions, including direct-calling families, sending emails and letters, and working with schools on newsletters.

After the catch-up program, the government will start mandatory reporting for schools in the fall.

“Very few people in B.C. are against all vaccinations,” Dr. Brian Emerson, deputy provincial health officer, said. “Due to a variety of other factors, measles immunization rates in B.C. are lower than they should be to ensure herd immunity.

“With this catch-up campaign, we can really work to reach herd immunity where at least 95 per cent of the population is vaccinated. It will also help better prepare parents to be aware of vaccination status, for when we introduce the next step of mandatory reporting of school-age children’s vaccination status this fall.”

Parents are asked to check their children’s immunization records to be sure they are up-to-date. If they are unsure or do not have the records handy, they can check with their primary care provider or public-health unit. Parents can provide their child’s records to their local public-health unit for entry into the provincial immunization registry. If a child’s current immunization record is already on file with the local health unit, parents do not need to provide it again.

This is not the first time the province has started an immunization campaign for measles. In 1996, a measles rubella (MR) vaccine provided to all children 19 months of age and older (toddlers, preschool children, elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students) in a province-wide campaign. The second dose was for measles protection.   Records for this MR vaccine campaign were provided to parents only and not retained by health units.

The measles vaccine is given as the combined measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine. Children are routinely given two doses of the MMR vaccine. The first dose is given at 12 months and the second dose is given at 4-6 years of age. Children 4 – 12 years of age who also need protection against chickenpox (varicella) can get their second dose as the combined measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (MMRV) vaccine

Older children and teens who have not been immunized should also get two doses of the MMR vaccine. Those with documentation of two doses of a measles-containing vaccine are considered immune and no booster doses are recommended.

With files from The Canadian Press

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