Toronto puts on hold with child programs to curb measles outbreaks

As Toronto parents scramble to take children out of school and onto child care centres following the outbreak of measles, health officials are “pausing” some recreational programs as thousands of children nationwide are waiting for the chance to get the vaccine after children received the most in an organized campaign last fall.

Toronto Public Health has put in place an “activity suspension” in 10 recreational centres, including the Children’s Discovery Centre, Health Step and Riverdale. The plan only covers recreational programs for children under five and includes: swimming, activities, sports and summer camps. This is in addition to the 760,00 Toronto children who are currently waiting to receive the measles vaccination.

“Council has requested a pause in activities in recreational centres and we’re complying. This is just one part of Toronto Public Health’s response to the outbreaks of measles. We have convened a meeting of key government agencies so they can use our incident response plan to prevent further outbreaks,” Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto Public Health’s chief medical officer, told

The plan focuses on reducing the spread of virus in public spaces by decreasing the “unvaccinated population.” The City of Toronto also passed a bylaw on Friday requiring immunization against measles for anyone working in or visiting Toronto public schools and daycares.

Measles requires a booster shot, called MMR (measles, mumps and rubella), four to six weeks after the first dose of vaccine. With the first vaccination, the body has a 72-hour window to react to the vaccine, preventing it from evolving into measles if it is not given.

For Toronto, the school board came up with the plan after inordinate numbers of kindergarten children remained unvaccinated after the inactivated MMR shot was administered last fall. Thousands of children across Canada have been unvaccinated in the last few months.

“The proper focus right now is on educating parents, children and staff about this rare disease,” said de Villa.

“Measles had been eradicated in the U.S. and was considered near-eliminated in Canada. However, a few cases have been reported across the country and we are seeing cases in the U.S.,” added de Villa. “That is why it is so important for those who are vulnerable to get vaccinated.”

Toronto public school trustee Alex Cullen, who chairs Toronto District School Board, said parents should know about what is being done to keep kids safe.

“If an unvaccinated student makes it into a public place – playground, playground facility, school or daycare – these parents need to know what is happening and learn the facts,” said Cullen. “I support what the City of Toronto is doing.”

According to the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, about 60 percent of people over five years old in the U.S. are still not vaccinated against measles.

Dr. Justin Lakin is a pediatrician and emergency physician at the SickKids Clinic in Toronto, Canada. He has performed more than 12,000 surgeries and writes about health issues at He is also vice president of MedPharm Online.

Dr.Aimee Nakai is a medical and technological director for the New York Post-Newsweek Health’s enterprise in Toronto, a division of News-Money Media.

Dr. Karen Reynolds is the medical director of the Health Clinics Division at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health System in Seattle. She is a clinical faculty member at the University of Washington College of Medicine and serves on the Institute of Medicine’s Committee on Immunization Practices. She’s a member of the American College of Family Physicians and is a mother of two children.

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