Image copyright Getty Images Image caption There are at least four children in each classroom
A school district in Toronto, Canada, is investigating after a letter sent to a parent of a student who was told to show proof of vaccination prompted another parent to report that 248 district employees had not been vaccinated against the virus.
The letter to the parent was sent to the office of the district superintendent after a parent whose child had a contagious illness was asked to report that his or her child had had the measles vaccine.
The letter advised the student to be up-to-date on their vaccinations and also to “report an illness” if they had not been vaccinated and could not remember.
It was signed by the superintendent, Craig Westcott, and read: “Please note that as an extreme measure, it will be required for some of our children not to return to school during the first week of September due to having missed their measles immunization.”
The letter was later sent to parents and sent out to all staff via email with the following message: “The recent letter from Superintendent Westcott included information about a vaccine in which an employee did not have proof of immunization. While this information was meant to be a general outline of immunization requirements, some people misinterpreted this and reported that 248 staff members were not immunized. “
The note also said that additional guidelines were issued later on the district’s website: “we would like to inform the public that there is no reportable case of the Measles in the District.”
Parents are reassured by the steps taken
At the end of a crisis meeting with parents about the situation, Dr Jamie Dovale, the city’s chief medical officer of health, said: “All of us are reassured to hear that the investigation is confirming no evidence that members of the public are at risk.”
None of the teachers or other staff involved have been publicly identified and a spokeswoman for the district said that confidentiality is key to the investigation.
She said that “workplace safety was always our first concern” and that nurses would be sent to teachers’ desks if they experienced any discomfort.
However, local MPP Lisa MacLeod criticised the district, saying: “It is shocking that these teachers would be told to take a three hour course on measles in the middle of the school day.
“I am asking the Education Minister to demand the Toronto District School Board hold an emergency meeting and provide a detailed explanation of what happened.”
Experts have welcomed the actions of the school district, saying that while it was “rightly suspicious that a positive case of measles could have been caused by staff that had not been vaccinated, it was still not right to say that all those who missed out on the measles shot were not eligible for additional vaccines.”
The risk of pertussis
Tests revealed that the Measles virus had been contained in an apartment in Etobicoke. Nine people were later given vaccine doses, nine others were released without any symptoms and two were discharged after a full round of the Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine.
Image copyright Getty Images Image caption The MMR vaccine has not been found to be linked to autism
The Measles virus can spread quickly around a community so if affected employees and the staff of the office building were not vaccinated, that risk should have been enough to cause the school to shut down, said Dr MacLeod.
“I’m happy to see that the Toronto District School Board made a good decision to stop all classes during the week of September 4,” she said.
“Dr Dovale has made clear that it was not right to call for this action, he responded with the right judgment.”
Dr Dovale pointed out that measles only has to take hold in a school or building before the entire community can be at risk.
“It is only through the virus infecting a primary through the ‘crowded environment’ of a school or other location that the district would be justified in shutting down and limiting public access and access to immunization.”
Dr MacLeod added: “We have a responsibility to offer immunisations to every child, which is why we go to great lengths to ensure immunisation is free and readily available.”