Health officials say thousands of Ontario students have fallen behind on routine vaccinations typically offered in schools as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In Toronto alone, an estimated 73,000 students in Grades 7 through 12 are behind by at least one dose in their Hepatitis B, Human Papilloma Virus and meningococcal vaccines, according to Toronto Public Health.
In recent submissions to the Toronto Board of Health, the public health unit said it has been unable to administer the shots to students in those grades during the pandemic.
However, it said the vaccines are currently being offered through city-run clinics and will be available in school-based clinics in the coming months.
The Lambton and Renfrew County health units are also holding clinics for students to catch up on Hepatitis B, Human Papilloma Virus and meningococcal immunizations.
In-school vaccination programs have been disrupted by school closures and a shift to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The shots were offered in community clinics and doctors’ offices in many regions, but that meant parents had to make arrangements to ensure their children were vaccinated.
Routine immunizations usually provided by doctors, such as the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine, have also been delayed in some areas because of the pandemic, health officials said.
"With the interruption of the school immunization program and delayed receipt of routine vaccinations by most Toronto children, there is an increased risk for vaccine preventable diseases and outbreaks in schools due to under-vaccination of the student population," Toronto Public Health wrote in its submissions.
It also pointed to "an increased risk of cancer in the longer term for students who do not receive their Human Papillomavirus and Hepatitis B vaccines."
Ontario students between the ages of four and 17 are required to have certain vaccines to attend school, or they could face suspension.
The North Bay Parry Sound health unit said students who are behind on their shots won't be suspended this year, to account for delays caused by the pandemic.
"The last two years have been very stressful and we don’t want to add to that stress. That’s why we are giving students time this year to get their vaccines without the risk of suspension," Marlene Campsall, manager of the health unit’s vaccine preventable disease program, said in a written statement.
But students are still required to catch up with their immunizations, and the regular rules will be applied next school year, she said.
Letters have been mailed to the families of children who are behind on their shots, and vaccine clinics are taking place in the community, the health unit said.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 5, 2022.
Paola Loriggio, The Canadian Press