Skip to content

'Just change a few words': Timmins mom wants more transparency from health unit

Stephanie Deshaies wants the Porcupine Health Unit to specify that people have a choice to vaccinate or not vaccinate their child
USED 2023-04-11-gm8-mh

A Timmins mother is speaking out about what she sees as a lack of transparency on information being shared about school immunizations.

Stephanie Deshaies, a registered nurse and mother of two, said letters from the Porcupine Health Unit (PHU) being distributed to parents regarding immunizations don’t specify that people have a choice on whether or not to vaccinate their child. The health unit says that it is following provincial legislation.

“Just change a few words in the letter. Like, I don't care how they word it, but you need to make people aware that they have options,” she said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, enforcement of the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA) was paused. The health unit started enforcing it again this school year. 

The vaccines required are diphtheria, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, meningococcal disease, pertussis (whooping cough), and varicella (chickenpox).

RELATED: Students not up-to-date on vaccines to get suspension notices by end of month

In January, the health unit sent out over 2,000 suspension prevention packages to parents and guardians whose children did not meet the ISPA requirements.

The health unit says over 90 per cent students receiving packages took steps to meet the requirements. By the April 30 suspension date, about 200 students received a suspension notice, which the health unit says is less than two per cent of the student population in the region.

Deshaies graduated as a registered nurse in 2009. She worked for the PHU for over six years, as well as at the hospital for a year and a half. In 2016, she became an osteopath.

When her children were two years old, she decided against vaccination. They have been exempt ever since. They’re now in Grade 7 and Grade 8. 

"It's just a personal belief. I'm a very holistic, natural person and I believe in boosting the immune system versus vaccinating with chemical products,” she said.

"My son had a terrible reaction to his 15-month vaccination. He was feverish and not responsive for three days."

Deshaies emailed the health unit in the fall and contacted the health unit once again earlier this month in hopes of having the wording in the letters to parents changed.

In PHU’s response to Deshaies’ follow-up email, it noted that as a public health unit in Ontario, it is “required to follow the Immunization of School Pupils Act (ISPA), to ensure the safety and well-being of all students.”

"Vaccinations are a part of this, providing a safe and effective way to protect our children against vaccine-preventable diseases,” the health unit wrote.

If religious, medical, or philosophical reasons prevent a student from being vaccinated, the health unit said families are encouraged to review PHU’s website which shares further information about exemptions.

In a written response to TimminsToday, Kendra Luxmore PHU’s program manager of immunization provided the same information that was given to Deshaies. She didn’t give any reasoning behind why a clear choice isn’t displayed in letters to parents.

“Under ISPA, the health unit is responsible for reviewing vaccine records to ensure that students attending school in Ontario are up to date with mandated vaccines or have a valid exemption on file,” she said.

"Once records are reviewed and students are identified as missing vaccines, outreach begins with letters and telephone calls, in which options are discussed including vaccination or a valid exemption.”

Information regarding the process is regularly shared with the school community to ensure that education partners are kept up to date on the process, Luxmore said.

“Our immunization team continues to be available to assist families, whether it involves scheduling vaccination appointments, providing immunizations, guiding educational support, or helping families through the exemption process as requested,” she said.

Those wishing to apply for vaccination exemption, whether it’s for non-medical or medical reasons, must complete several steps. The process includes watching a vaccine education video and taking a quiz to get a vaccine education certificate, and getting a form signed by a commissioner of oath such as a municipal clerk or provincial judge.

All of the steps are available on the PHU’s website here.

Individuals who don’t receive their vaccinations or submit a valid exemption are subject to suspension.

Deshaies said her niece was one of the students who faced a two-day suspension two weeks ago due to a lack of communication regarding exemption.

“The Thursday and Friday before these exemptions needed to be handed in, the entire lobby of the health unit was full of people. Don't tell me the public is aware, because here they are getting all these threatening letters. If they knew the path, they would have done it a long time ago,” she said.

Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

About the Author: Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Marissa Lentz covers civic issues along the Highway 11 corridor under the Local Journalism Initiative, which is funded by the Government of Canada
Read more

Reader Feedback