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Ontario parents who refuse to vaccinate their children could be forced to take a science class

By Aamna Mohdin

Ontario is cracking down on parents who choose to not vaccinate their children for non-medical reasons.

The health ministry of Canada’s most populous province has tabled a bill that would force those who reject vaccination to take a science lesson. The “education session” would explain the importance of vaccination for their children and the rest of society.

If the bill is passed, parents would have to attend the session before applying for a vaccine exemption. A consultation with public health units and other stakeholders is planned, which would determine the content of the science lessons.

Ontario was the first province in Canada to introduce immunization laws (pdf) in 1982, which required that children attending school be vaccinated against certain diseases—including diphtheria, tetanus, polio, and measles—unless they have a signed exemption. After routine immunization was introduced, cases of those diseases dramatically reduced.

Parents who apply for an exemption (pdf) for non-medical reasons risk having their child pulled from school if there’s an outbreak, or the immediate risk of an outbreak, of a designated disease.

The proposed bill follows the suspension of nearly 600 high school students who failed to provide their immunization record. It’s part of health minister Eric Hoskins’ proposed new five-year strategy, called Immunization 2020, which will also launch an online tool to help parents keep track of their vaccination schedule. Ontario immunization coverage, though high, still falls short of national immunization targets.