KFL&A community health update highlights importance of immunizations

Dr. Piotr Oglaza (bottom right), Medical Officer of Health for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, presents his monthly community update to the Board of Health. Screen captured image.

Dr. Piotr Oglaza, Medical Officer of Health (MOH) for Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox and Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, provided his monthly community update to the Board of Health last week, and “immunizations” was the word of the day.

Oglaza had several updates to share with the board at its meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2024, about the ongoing work of Public Health and health-related issues happening in the area and the province — including the possible merger of local regional Health Units, the proposed closure of the Public Health Ontario laboratory in Kingston, and the potential of community water fluoridation to combat tooth decay, particularly in children.

He began with an overview of the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) R.S.O.1990, which requires all students in Ontario to be up-to-date on immunizations. Olglaza expressed appreciation for the local vaccination rate in students, which, after the post-pandemic catch-up in the 2022-2023 school year, saw about 94 percent of children fully vaccinated.

“In January this year, the vaccine-preventable diseases team distributed ISPA overdue notices to approximately 3,800 students in our region,” said Oglaza.

To catch up the six per cent of students who aren’t fully vaccinated, the MOH said, “this year, we have divided the schools in our enforcement area for the Act into two cohorts… to ensure we can manage a large volume of catch-up immunizations to improve the process and experience for those impacted by this.” 

Oglaza explained that in the first cohort, which consisted of approximately 2,300 students and whose deadline to report was February 12, 2024, there had been a significant reduction in students overdue for vaccines.

“For the first cohort, the number of students overdue was reduced from 2,300 to approximately 1,200,” he noted

The reporting deadline for the second cohort, which consists of approximately 1,500 students, was March 4, 2024.

“Over the coming months, our team will continue to collaborate with school boards, primary health care providers, and families to keep students in school, reducing the risk of becoming suspended under the Act. It is to promote community safety from vaccine-preventable diseases by making sure that students are up to date and that we have records of those immunizations,” Oglaza said.

A slide from Oglaza’s update. Screen captured image.

Measles

Next Oglaza discussed the reports of increased measles outbreaks worldwide and underscored the importance of vaccines, saying, “This is why the ISPA program is so important.”

An illustration provided a 3D graphic representation of a spherical-shaped measles virus particle. Graphic via US Center for Disease Control (CDC)

“Unfortunately, we have already seen that increase of cases globally,” he pointed out. “We have seen measles identified in Ontario in recent weeks; [these cases] were related to individual travels. Unfortunately — and it’s not unexpected — they both happened in un-immunized individuals.”

According to Oglaza, the KFL&A region has high coverage for measles immunization: “Those born in 1970 or later who have not had measles or been vaccinated with two doses of MMR [Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccine] can become infected, though.” He is recommending residents check their immunization records, particularly before travel. Residents can access the MMR vaccine series through their health-care provider. KFL&A Public Health’s information page on measles adds, “If you do not have a health-care provider, you may be able to receive the vaccine at a KFL&A Public Health clinic.”

Avian Influenza

Oglaza next referred to the recent large die-off of Canada geese in Kingston along the shoreline of Lake Ontario.

Colourized transmission electron micrograph of Avian influenza A H5N1 viruses (seen in gold) grown in MDCK cells (seen in green). Photo via the US Center for Disease Control (CDC) courtesy of Cynthia Goldsmith.

“Avian influenza was confirmed from this large die-off by Canadian Wildlife Health Cooperative…. KFL&A Public Health issued a public notice to notify the community of the results and inform the public on how to protect themselves,” he said, noting Public Health has also continued social media messaging with protective measures for the public.

“The Ministry of Health informed KFL&A Public Health of subsequent birds from our region testing positive for avian influenza, including eight geese, three crows, and one eagle.”

Meningitis

Oglaza said that there had been an increase in invasive meningococcal disease (type B) activity in the KFL&A area.

“In recent months, the region has experienced three confirmed cases of this serious bacterial infection, with no identifiable link between them. This count is above the KFL&A region’s historical average,” he explained.

Meningococcal bacteria are spread from person to person through close and direct contact: for example, open-mouth kissing or the sharing of drinking cups, eating utensils, vapes, etc.

According to Oglaza, invasive meningococcal disease (IMD) is a rare but potentially life-threatening bacterial infection. It can infect the brain and spinal cord (meningitis), and the bloodstream (septicemia). All meningococcal infections are medical emergencies. Symptoms may initially resemble the flu, then rapidly worsen.

“Invasive meningococcal disease is a serious infection that can progress rapidly and have severe consequences if not treated promptly,” he said/ “It’s important to recognize the signs and symptoms of meningococcal disease and seek medical care immediately if the illness is suspected.”

Captured during the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) multistate meningitis outbreak investigation in 2020, this plate revealed the results of a susceptibility test to the antifungal drug, amphotericin B. Photo via CDC.

Meningococcal B (MenB) vaccine is not routinely offered in Ontario except for people with certain high-risk medical conditions. The Meningococcal C vaccine is given at one year of age, and the meningococcal ACYW-135 vaccine is administered in Grade 7, according to Oglaza.

“As we continue to work with partners to investigate, we encourage residents 25 years of age and under to ensure they are up-to-date with routine meningococcal vaccines,” he said, noting that both pre- and post-secondary school education campaigns would be running in the area.

He also said that KFL&A Public Health members are now having ongoing conversations with the province about whether the new local instances of the disease might require the vaccine to be made publicly available in the region.

For more information on any of the topics covered, visit the KFL&A Public Health website.

The KFL&A Board of Health, which meets monthly, is comprised of municipal and community appointees and works to ensure that all residents of the KFL&A region have access to Public Health programs and services.

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