This year, there have been reports of a higher than average number of outbreaks of meningitis. The T.M.R. strain is particularly dangerous.
Forcing kids in Ontario to be vaccinated against meningitis is popular among a number of moms and dads who don’t want their little ones to be exposed to the deadly bacteria. People from all over the world are taking to social media to ask that local schools adopt a policy of vaccinating all infants to ensure their children are up to date on their vaccines.
Meningitis is a common bacterial infection that can spread through sneezing and coughing and, if left untreated, can kill the young and develop severe inflammation to the brain and spinal cord. In Ontario, meningitis is classified as a “serious communicable disease,” meaning that vaccination would be mandatory for children attending Toronto’s 30,000 public schools.
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In March, the Ontario government refused to sign off on a new bill that would have had the province enforce the vaccine requirement. The bill was a response to a cluster of cases in Canadian hospitals last winter, in which 26 babies were hospitalized with meningitis. The provinces of B.C. and Ontario told pregnant mothers that they needed to be vaccinated against the B.C. strain of the bacteria, and to get their babies vaccinated so they wouldn’t catch it. The health boards in Toronto provided free vaccines to pregnant mothers and their babies in September 2017 and February 2018.
But this year, only 1,200 children received the first round of a vaccine that is highly effective against the bacteria that caused last year’s outbreak. According to Vaccine Safety Canada, the two vaccine options used in Ontario to fight the disease have “extensive side effects” and “are not recommended for the immunocompromised.”
Many parents are opposing the mandatory vaccination requirement and criticizing the families behind them on social media.
Mr. Littleproud, 15, said his mother took his sister to school without a meningitis vaccination, but hadn’t been vaccinated for another medical condition. Mr. Littleproud started a Change.org petition against the proposed vaccination requirement.
“We have an outbreak of meningitis in a school in Toronto,” the petition reads. “I do not agree with mandatory vaccination of my niece, who will go to school in Toronto.”
A number of small and large schools in Toronto also opt to not vaccinate children.
“Many of the school communities have a strong parents union and will resist doing the required vaccinations to keep their students at risk from meningitis,” Mr. Littleproud said.
At Grand Central Parramatta School in inner-city Toronto, both traditional and parent-initiated free vaccinations are available for students across the age spectrum. According to the school’s website, “due to the way the National Immunization Program operates, our students will always get the shot that is most prevalent at that time, as we are always tracking outbreaks and are prepared for any eventuality.”
In Ontario, the provincial government has opposed the mandatory vaccination requirement. Ontario’s chief medical officer of health says the provincial government is aware of the meningitis outbreak, but doesn’t want to make changes to its vaccination program because they “would create financial strain on schools, particularly in rural communities, by creating additional vaccination requirements.”
The press office for the Ministry of Health declined to comment for this story.
“Many parents won’t vaccinate anyway, regardless of the vaccination policy,” Mr. Littleproud said. “This is the only way that we’re really going to change the trend that we’re seeing and see outbreaks that are potentially much more deadly than the ones in the spring.”