Story highlights More than 200 Toronto Public School Teachers have not been vaccinated for polio since 2006.
This has led to what’s being called a “national crisis.”
The city of Toronto is making a “national crisis” of its own after officially acknowledging the effects of a growing list of unvaccinated teachers.
It has officially become the largest ever outbreak of a disease that’s been around for nearly a century and is now focused in Toronto.
Not all teachers are unvaccinated. Several are infrequent travelers and those who believe they are naturally immune to the disease, including those with religious or cultural beliefs or who’ve received a smallpox vaccination. But as many as 200 Toronto Public School Teachers have not been vaccinated for polio since 2006. And a large portion of those have since been diagnosed with the polio virus in recent years.
More than 400 people in total have been infected in Ontario since 2015.
Some Toronto Public School Teachers have fallen ill after coming into contact with infected individuals. Toronto Public Schools public information officer Michaela Fogarty said the school board has “paused” all recreational activity at schools with a staff with unvaccinated status.
Their exemption processes
A provincial policy made last year means anyone can continue their practice if they have an “explanation and support” from a medical professional.
The policy mandates three health care professionals, each having expertise in the vaccine, to also sign off on the health care practitioner’s vaccination record.
Fogarty said that at approximately 120 schools in Toronto, “caregivers have written certifications.”
No other school boards in Ontario seem to have the same immunization policies.
Officials from the city’s public health agency also confirmed that the “virus was found in the sewage at Porter Village School” in recent weeks.
There have been no cases at the schools that currently have unvaccinated staff, but following the outbreak at Porter Village School, “officials in my department decided to interrupt recreation activities at those schools where there are unvaccinated staff,” said Robert Smith, an official with Toronto Public Health.
Eliminating “uncontrollable outbreaks”
Public health officials say both schools with unvaccinated staff have been identified and cleaned, and a multi-step process is now underway to ensure that no schools will become a “new host site.”
Two kinds of progress have been made already:
One public health official says “we will see no new cases spread beyond the areas of Toronto where the outbreak is taking place.” And
Two weeks ago, Toronto Public Health issued a “scientific statement” stating that “Toronto has the ability to contain and stop a polio outbreak to this day.” The statement called Toronto “unique” because of its large population, access to transportation, comprehensive healthcare system and, therefore, being able to contain an outbreak easily.
The city’s mayor, John Tory, has also encouraged residents to sign up for a Polio Vaccination Clinic to protect children by vaccinating their family or friends who may have children who may not be vaccinated.
According to the World Health Organization, polio is completely eradicated in 90 countries, including the US, Canada and Australia. But in 2016, 38 countries were affected by an outbreak.
Some Toronto Public School Teachers are requesting that additional time is given for hospitalization and treatment of any illnesses before or after vaccinations. In December, the Toronto District School Board went to court to prevent testing residents to try to detect immunity levels in those who don’t have immunity.