An anti-vaccine group is threatening a court challenge against any attempt to remove Ontario parents’ right to keep schoolchildren unvaccinated for philosophical or religious reasons.
“Any legislation that removes the right to informed consent and bodily sovereignty undermines our rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms,” Vaccine Choice Canada said in a statement to the Star.
“There is no public health emergency to justify the loss of individual and parental rights and freedoms in Canada.”
Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s top public health official, wants the health board to consider asking the Ontario government to scrap parents’ right to claim religious and philosophical objections to school vaccinations. That would leave medical issues as the only exemption.
De Villa says that, if allowed to continue growing, the small number of unvaccinated schoolchildren will threaten “herd immunity” — the maximum protection from measles and other diseases afforded a community by mass immunization.
The trend of parents’ fearing vaccines and opting out, often after reading online information, is growing internationally, she says, adding Toronto needs to halt or reverse the trend locally before the city faces outbreaks like those in the U.S. linked to unvaccinated kids.
New York is moving to outlaw non-medical vaccination exemptions while California is taking steps to significantly restrict their numbers.
While Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott said last winter she was “very concerned” by anti-vaccination billboards that briefly appeared in Toronto, she currently has no plans to review the exemption system, according to her communication director.
Ted Kuntz of Vaccine Choice Canada said in the statement to the Star that his non-profit was founded by families with members who suffered severe health effects from vaccines, and they will fight any efforts to stop parents from being permitted to refuse immunizations.
“Our mission is to empower individuals to make informed health-care choices and to defend the medical ethic of ‘informed consent,’ the Ontario health-care consent act, the right of parents to make medical decisions for their children, therapeutic choice and bodily autonomy,” said Kuntz, who has also threatened to challenge New Brunswick if that province proceeds with a planned exemption crackdown.
In an interview Wednesday de Villa, whose recommendations also include strengthening supports for Ontarians who suffer adverse reactions to vaccines, said she doesn’t want Toronto to wait for a major outbreak before taking action to curb exemptions from a practice that researchers say is an overall benefit to child health.
“We are a global city and we have our own evidence suggesting that we’re seeing increasing rates of exemptions and increasing rates of vaccine hesitancy,” de Villa said. “I think it’s important to be proactive. And I think this is what’s expected of us as public health practitioners by our public.”
Toronto Public Health says religious and philosophical objections to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine grew to 1.72 per cent (among local school kids) in early 2019 from 0.8 per cent in 2006. Scientists say herd immunity to measles is threatened when about 5 per cent of children in a community are unvaccinated.
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In particular need of protection, de Villa said, are children unable to withstand vaccines due to medical conditions. Effects of the diseases in question range from mild illness to debilitating conditions and even death, she added.
Parents both for and against immunization exemptions are expected to make presentations to the public health board members Monday when they debate de Villa’s recommendation.