Telegraph Journal – August 28, 2019

Adam Huras | Legislature Bureau

New Brunswick’s top doctor says she doesn’t know if the province needs a law to make vaccinations mandatory for school kids, believing the data isn’t available to suggest how big the problem at hand really is.

New Brunswick Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Jennifer Russell has avoided wading into whether the Higgs government’s proposed law is necessary.Questioned while in front of a committee currently studying the bill on Tuesday evening, Russell said there are “gaps” in the province’s own knowledge of who is vaccinated and who isn’t.

In testimony earlier in the day, Education Minister Dominic Cardy said a departmental review of more than 97,000 student immunization records found that 1.6 per cent had exemptions.

But he added that another 18,055 of those records were incomplete, meaning it wasn’t clear if each of those students had the full schedule of 11 different vaccinations that the province provides.

Cardy has argued that health experts call for 95 per cent of a population to be immunized to achieve “herd immunity,” a threshold high enough to stop the spread of a contagious disease.

Russell said New Brunswick is in the process of figuring out where the province’s number actually stands, but is still just less than a year from doing so.That won’t happen until April 2020.

The provincial government is implementing a new electronic health record system that aims to improve the management of vaccines, immunizations and potential disease outbreaks.

The system, called the Public Health Information Solution, will replace the current practice of paper-based records with one that will organize and streamline the records into one central database.

Russell answered repeated questions from the committee about whether mandatory vaccinations are needed with questions of her own about existing data.

“Are we facing some sort of medical crisis when it comes to levels of vaccination rates that would warrant mandatory vaccinations?” Green MLA Megan Mitton asked.

Russell replied: “Having incomplete records means that we have an incomplete picture.”

“Having all of the information collected in the Public Health Information Solution will improve all that and fill in those gaps so we can speak more confidently about what the situation is and what we should be doing about it,” Russell said.

Asked again if she supports the legislative change, Russell said she “doesn’t have an answer.”

In speaking during the committee hearing, Mitton said the proposed legislative change currently “feels like we’re going after a solution and we don’t quite have the full picture of the problem and if for sure there is a problem.

“Russell said New Brunswick hasn’t had an increase in disease outbreaks.She also said her office is prepared to deal with outbreaks without the need of a mandatory vaccination law.Testimony on the bill continues on Wednesday.

New Brunswick’s Child and Youth Advocate Norman Bossé and Vaccine Choice Canada, an anti-vaccination group, are slated to appear.More to come…