By Sue Tiffin
Published March 26 2019
On March 15 the Toronto Star ran a story about an online vaccination reporting tool being used by the province to track student vaccinations through parent and caregiver input.
The Immunization Connect Ontario or ICON tool launched in November 2017 enables the public to self-report immunization for nine vaccine-preventable diseases: diphtheria pertussis tetanus polio measles mumps rubella meningococcal disease and varicella (chicken pox) which are required immunizations by students under the Immunization of Pupils Act of 1990 and the Child Care and Early Years Act of 2014 unless parents and caregivers have signed an exemption form stating a voluntary vaccine delay or refusal based on medical religious or personal beliefs.
The investigative report details how the former Liberal provincial government created the reporting system so that health-care providers could directly submit vaccination records and updates to public health officials but without consultation with frontline workers the system was found to be incompatible with existing electronic records.
The current Progressive Conservative provincial government is replacing that system with Ontario’s eHealth currently creating a new online tool to ensure health-care providers will be able to directly report data at some point – as yet to be determined – in the future. The article says the current ICON system being promoted by the province allows for error making it difficult for public health officials to have accurate vaccination data which can help in the management of disease outbreaks.
Marianne Rock at the Haliburton Kawartha Pine Ridge District Health Unit said there is a reconciliation of data that has been entered by parents and caregivers prior to being uploaded to Panorama an online provincial repository for immunization data.
“So here we have data entry clerks that are very knowledgeable and skilled at the immunization schedule” she said. “If there’s any issue they have to call the parent.” Parents are inputting information and may not always be familiar with the records they’re using or the drug names they’re looking at.
“So what happens here is we get that information but we still have to go through and sift through it and make sure it’s accurate. And what that involves usually is calling the parent or guardian and making sure that what they’ve put in is the right information.”
A feature has recently been added to the ICON system that allows parents and caregivers to take a photo of the immunization record and upload it according to Rock. Parents and caregivers can also call fax mail or email the information directly to the health unit.
Daycares and schools often update the health unit on students immunization records but Rock stressed it is the responsibility of parents to ensure vaccinations are up to date and records have been reported.
“We don’t receive automatic updates from health-care providers so we really depend on parents and guardians to send the information to us” said Rock.
Rock said she “didn’t have the numbers in front of her” but that the online system which she considered user-friendly was being used. She said in her own opinion she didn’t think the system was as flawed as the Star article portrayed.
“For myself I manage vaccinate preventable disease I think the things we have put in place as a practice here at our health unit and I would speak across the province as well it’s not just a matter of parents going in and putting perhaps falsified information or information and then perhaps nothing’s done with that information where there’s no interaction” she said.
“[T]here’s always that risk [of falsifying information] when you’re relying on self-reports no matter what information it is” she said. “But I would say that overall we as a health unit have not seen that. Parents and guardians want to ensure the best for their children and in that regard especially with the immunization schedule it’s very complex. And I would say that as a parent myself I would see it very difficult for someone to falsify that information. I don’t see that happening.”
In the future Rock would welcome a system in which health-care providers could automatically report to the health unit on vaccination updates.
“It would be really great if we could have automatic updates from health-care providers” she said. “And hopefully we’ll get there some day. But right now we’re really just pushing for getting the information out there for parents and guardians for how to report to public health … We want to make sure that everyone stays healthy in our community and one of those things is vaccinations. The more we work together on that at the end of the day the healthier community we have.”
To contact the HKPR call 1-866-888-4577. The ICON system and Ontario’s immunization schedule can be accessed at hkpr.icon.ehealthontario.ca.