The city of Toronto will halt summer recreation programs for children whose parents have refused to vaccinate them amid concerns it may result in a rise in measles cases.
“At the City of Toronto, our responsibility is to the public health of all our residents, and to protect the health of young people and adults who may be at risk of contracting serious illnesses,” said Stephanie Ip, the head of recreation and culture services, in a statement.
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The city on Wednesday announced a temporary temporary suspension of the kids programs due to the current measles outbreak in the city, which began earlier this year. Measles, which is highly contagious, can be contracted from a person who has recently been infected with the virus or one who comes into direct contact with an infected person, who’s then contagious for 21 days.
Ip said public health officials were “prepared to quickly resume any programs in the future as the risk of public health harm diminishes”. The health unit issued a press release this week saying anyone who’s unvaccinated should “explore other options or avoid community exposure”.
The mayor of Toronto also weighed in on the issue Wednesday, telling the Toronto Star “people have a right to refuse to immunize their children.” The paper notes the mayor signed a petition to ban certain vaccine exemptions earlier this year. The petition, which garnered approximately 16,000 signatures, was rejected by council in September.
The measles outbreak that began earlier this year at the McMaster Children’s Hospital hospital has since spread. The national health department reported 176 cases of measles in Ontario since January. This week, Toronto public health announced an outbreak at Thomas Park Collegiate Institute, where 68 cases of measles have been confirmed. Those cases have been attributed to a total of 45 people who may have been exposed, ranging in age from eight to 19.
The outbreaks in Toronto and Hamilton has received widespread attention, coming at a time when more and more parents are increasingly choosing not to vaccinate their children due to fears of side effects and various supposed links to autism. Others simply prefer to go without vaccinations.
Toronto is not the only place where measles outbreaks have occurred. A recently released Reuters analysis reveals at least 81 outbreaks occurred in countries that joined the EU in 2004 or later, with 47 states experiencing outbreaks in either the US or Canada.
However, the city of Toronto’s decision to suspend summer programs for unvaccinated kids is one of the most drastic, coming amid an ongoing measles outbreak. Other health authorities, like Calgary’s health department, have decided against following suit.