By. John Boldrick
Courtesy of Hastings Health Source 
Chris Graham sits in his grade nine classrooms at Centennial Secondary School, surrounded by rows and rows of his peers.
While the class is nearly full today, in a few weeks time, it could be much emptier.
1000 local elementary and high school students from the Hastings and Prince Edward district school board are facing suspensions if they do not have their immunizations completed by February 5.
The suspensions could last up to 20 school days. The students would return to school on March 5.
Graham is up to date on his immunizations. He feels that suspending other students because they are not isn’t right.
“That is just wrong, from my point of view,” said Graham, “Some people can’t afford it or they just don’t know where to go to get it.”
This isn’t the first time suspension notices have gone home. Every year local schools go through the same procedure.
“From what we’ve seen in the recent years is that there are always some students who are not up to date on their immunizations, so there always is a certain number of students who get the suspension notices,” said Kerry Donnell, communications officer for the Hastings and Prince Edward district school board.
The decision to suspend students wasn’t made by the schools or even the school board.
“The school board helps to facilitate by sending the notices home to students. The health unit delivers the notices to the schools and the principals get them to students to take them home but it really is driven by the health unit,” said Donnell.
The Immunization School Pupils Act was created in 1990. It says that students must receive vaccinations or face a mandatory suspension. Among the shots needed are vaccinations for polio, the mumps, rubella and a tetanus shot.
“These are vaccines that, at that point in time, were considered the most essential,” said Bill Sherlock, clinical service manager for the Hastings and Prince Edward county health unit.
Ontario legislation states that students must receive six shots total. Sherlock said that while the six are important, students should also consider getting other vaccinations. One example is the pertussis vaccination, which protects against a highly contagious bacteria infection, causing uncontrollable coughing.
“There are several more that are still very important that children should be updated against,” said Sherlock.
Students were first informed that they need vaccinations on October 9. A follow was sent home just before Christmas. The third and final warning was issued on January 14 .
Not all 1000 students will be suspended. Some students still need their shots, but Sherlock said being behind on paper work amounts for some of the numbers.
“They may be immunized but their records are not updated at the health unit,” he said, “Some of them may have up to date records, some of them may require immunization but either way we require a record.”
Students needing immunizations still have time to get their shots. As long as a student gets the vaccination and reports it to the health unit before the deadline, they will not be suspended. Vaccinations are available at the health unit or through local clinics.
“If you need a shot that’s fine, come on into one of our clinics or if you have the immunization its just a matter of calling us,” said Sherlock.
While the deadline for submitting current vaccination information is still a few weeks away, the health unit is already bracing for public backlash.
“I suspect I’ll hear some (backlash) from some of the parents,” said Sherlock.
The health unit will be running extended clinics in the weeks leading up to the deadline. Clinics run every Tuesday from noon until 6 P.M. There will also be vaccinations available on February 4 from 9 A.M. – 4 P.m. The extra clinics are being held so students will get vaccinated and not have to miss any school.
“We really don’t want to suspend any student, we’re trying to give as much notice as possible,” said Sherlock.
Even if students are suspended from school, they are able to return to class once they are vaccinated. Sherlock said that in most cases, students don’t miss many days.
“I’m hoping everyone will comply. I think last year when we did the elementary suspensions that for the most part all the students were able to get their immunizations and get updated within the first day or two of the suspensions.”