01/07/2016 14:28 EST | Updated 01/07/2017 00:12 EST

Schools threaten students with suspensions over outdated immunization records

TORONTO — Thousands of Ontario students face possible suspensions from school because they haven't provided updated immunization records, but public health officials can't say exactly how many young people across the province are affected.

The 36 local public health units in Ontario are required to maintain immunization records for school pupils, and can ask boards to issue suspension warnings to parents in an effort to get them to make sure their children's vaccines are up to date.

School boards in Toronto, Ottawa, North Bay, Hamilton, Brampton and other communities either sent warnings to parents about possible suspensions if updated immunization records were not provided, or actually moved to suspend students.

Public Health Ontario, an agency set up by the Liberals in 2007 to, among other things, monitor the percentage of Ontarians who receive vaccines, says it does not collect the immunization records from local public health units.

Agency spokeswoman Janet Wong says "there is no one central place where all that information is available" on the number of students with outdated immunization records.

The Ministry of Health says a five-year renewal plan for its immunization program released last month will look at ways to improve public reporting of local vaccine coverage rates.

Often the vaccines are up to date but not the actual immunization records because some boards update the data immediately following school-based clinics, while others wait until the end of the school year to file it with the public health unit.

Ontario's auditor general criticized the government's lack of information on its vaccine programs in her 2014 annual report, saying the data are often far out of date depending on when schools, and parents, report the vaccinations.

Public Health Ontario's report on the 2012–13 school year found immunization coverage varied greatly by vaccine and by age groups, and suggested some communities and students may be at increased risk of certain vaccine-preventable diseases.

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Keith Leslie, The Canadian Press