The Manitoba School Boards Association (MSBA) is set to vote on a motion that — if approved — would result in the group lobbying the provincial government to enact legislation requiring mandatory vaccinations for school-aged children.
The vote will take place at the organization’s annual convention Friday, due to a resolution brought forth by the Brandon School Division (BSD).
"Increasing numbers of kids are not being immunized, and the risk that can put everyone else in is considerable," said Linda Ross, chairwoman of the BSD board of trustees.
"This is a motion we brought forth once before (in 2015), and it was defeated. So we’re bringing it forward again with more information. Nationally, vaccination rates are getting sufficiently low that herd immunity is at risk."
If given the green light, the motion would push the MSBA to lobby the province to require school-aged children be vaccinated for nine medical conditions, including chicken pox, mumps and measles. While vaccinations are not mandatory anywhere in Canada, the issue has been debated in various provinces in the past, usually engendering discussion of whether "the carrot or the stick" is better when it comes to the controversial topic.
The BSD resolution makes clear vaccination exemptions would be granted for medical reasons. It further states the move would be justified as vaccination rates are trending down to the points where herd immunity — a population’s resistance to the spread of a disease or infection — is at risk.
Some individuals, such as infants or those unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons, rely on herd immunity to keep them safe, Ross said. It is for this reason, Ross said, she feels it isn’t simply a personal decision.
"If you take a look at what national vaccination coverage goals are, versus actual coverage, there’s a big discrepancy there. So it is becoming a concern," she said. "Unless there are enough people who’ve been immunized, then it won’t be effective for others. If you choose not to immunize your child, you’re putting other people at risk."
Arthur Schafer, a professor of professional and applied ethics at the University of Manitoba, said Tuesday he wasn’t familiar enough with the public-health evidence surrounding different vaccination policies to comment specifically on the proposal. But he did supply, by email, a series of questions he feels should be considered by the MSBA prior to Friday’s vote.
"Is the alleged public-health problem (arising from the status quo) sufficiently serious to justify coercing parents with respect to vaccinating their children? Is the use of coercion the only or best way to promote the objective being sought?" Schafer wrote.
"Finally, if such a policy were to be adopted, what would happen to children whose parents refuse to give permission for the children’s vaccination? Would the children be refused admission to school? Would the parents be fined or imprisoned? Would the children be forcibly vaccinated?"
When reached for comment late in the day, a provincial spokesman said legislation regarding mandatory vaccination "isn’t currently being considered."
When asked if she was concerned over potential backlash from parents who hold anti-vaccination views — some of who may have children who go to school in the BSD — Ross said she was not.
"I imagine there may be some parents who would be upset by this, but the data is clear. Rates of vaccination have taken a noticeable dive, and that’s something we need to be proactive about," Ross said.
"I think we need to bring the information forward, and strongly lobby the government to enact legislation for school children to be vaccinated for certain designated diseases."
Ryan Thorpe likes the pace of daily news, the feeling of a broadsheet in his hands and the stress of never-ending deadlines hanging over his head.