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Montreal Public Health launches measles immunization campaign in schools

Some parents with children in the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal received a letter Thursday, warning them of the upcoming vaccination campaign.  (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)
Some parents with children in the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal received a letter Thursday, warning them of the upcoming vaccination campaign. (Ivanoh Demers/Radio-Canada - image credit)

Montreal Public Health is launching a measles vaccination campaign in select schools next week after nine cases were detected in the city.

Neither students nor staff are required to be vaccinated in Quebec, but those who are unvaccinated could be forced to stay home for weeks at a time if infection is detected in the school, according to Dr. Paul Le Guerrier, who is responsible for immunization at Montreal's health agency.

"Both adults and children will be excluded from schools up to 14 days after the last case of measles in the school," he said.

"If there are several cases in the school, this could be a month or a month-and-a-half being excluded from the school."

The measles vaccination rate is currently around 80 per cent in schools and Montreal Public Health wants to raise that rate to 95 per cent, or better. Rather than doing a blanket campaign throughout all schools, specific schools will be targeted.

Some parents with children in the Centre de services scolaire de Montréal (CSSDM) received a letter Thursday from the school centre, advising them of the upcoming vaccination campaign.

The letter was penned by Daphnée Landry, principal of École Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, its annex and École Étoile Filante. She says a large number of students are not protected against the measles virus and she outlines where and when vaccinations will take in the coming days in the three schools.

Consent forms will be sent to parents, she writes, and staff members are also invited to get vaccinated, if necessary.

"If your child has not received the measles vaccine, it is strongly recommended," Landry writes.

Usually, the first dose of the measles vaccination is administered at 12 months and a second one at 18 months, Le Guerrier said.

"If a child is going on a trip where there is an outbreak, we can give a dose to children below one year of age," he said.

Le Guerrier said there are, from time to time, small outbreaks of measles in the region, but usually health officials are able to stop it from spreading. But there is a real danger right now because there are so many outbreaks around the world, he said.

This means travellers risk bringing the virus back to Quebec, increasing the risk of transmissions in the community that can last days to weeks, he said.

"That's what we are trying to prevent from happening," he said. "That's why we are urging parents to get their kids vaccinated, or themselves if they don't know if they are vaccinated."

For the most recent outbreak, Quebec Public Health has published a list of locations where people may have been exposed. In Montreal, that list includes a daycare, CLSCs, hospitals, the airport, Metro lines and more.

Dr. Donald Vinh is an infectious diseases specialist and medical microbiologist at the McGill University Health Centre. He said it's important to recognize that it's not just anti-vaxxers who aren't vaccinated.

"There are some people who are not vaccinated for several different reasons," he said. "There are some socioeconomic reasons that people are not vaccinated."

He said some may not be vaccinated because they are newly arrived immigrants who haven't been able to connect to a primary care provider. Others, he said, may be vaccine-hesitant and need more convincing with more information on the vaccine's importance, effectiveness and safety.

Developed in the 1960s, the measles vaccine has several decades' worth of proven effectiveness and safety, Vinh said.