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The Military Family Vaccination Problem

February 5, 2015

I’m pretty diligent about keeping our family’s vaccination records but I bet there are not a lot of people that are so diligent.

In most provinces, you get a small folded bit of paper at birth (actual size 10x15cm) on which to record all the vaccinations for your entire life. You must keep this little paper safe at all times and take it with you to every immunization appointment.

Screen Shot 2015-02-05 at 16.51.53

What if the vaccination card is:

  • stored in a pocket and goes through the wash and gets destroyed?
  • kept in your wallet and your wallet is stolen?
  • is just plain old lost?

Ah, you’re thinking you just go to your family doctor and he/she will have all of the records.

Not so fast!

If you’re a military family, you may have just moved and you don’t have a family doctor. You can’t get your medical records shipped from your old doctor because he/she will only ship them to a new doctor. There is also the possibility that you got your vaccinations from a public health nurse or school nurse who doesn’t necessarily pass on the information to your family doctor. You might try to get the information from the public health unit in your former province but if you don’t have your health card number from way back then, your records probably won’t be found.

To make matters worse, vaccinations schedules are different in almost every province.

The main immunizations (diphtheria, pertussis, polio, tetanus, measles, mumps and rubella) are pretty much consistent. However, the schedule of other vaccinations such as chicken pox, HPV, Hepatitis A&B are different or are optional.

Canada has an immunization schedule tool but it is useless you were born before 2009 or if you’ve lived in 4 different provinces and, heaven forbid, you move from one province to another when you’re in the middle of receiving a series of vaccines.

What happens if parents don’t bother to keep records and have moved frequently?

Canada, you NEED a national health records system.

What are your suggestions to make immunization and health care better for Canadian military families?

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5 Comments
  1. February 5, 2015 18:00

    This is a HUGE issue in military family life, now more so than ever with the resurgence of herd immunity discussions. Trying to make a public health nurse understand that yes, my children are fully immunized, and no, I don’t have proof, because proof is somewhere in an unopened box because it came home from the last province’s school system two days before the packers arrived. And also no, I don’t have a family doctor you can call because it’s really not worth it for me to go through the hassle of the ‘initial appointments’ (read a waste of at least 3 hours of my precious time) on a two year posting. And also no, I don’t want you to give my child a vaccination ahead of the one schedule I’m adhering to (namely Ontario). And no, the fact that it is free in this province at this age doesn’t matter to me.

    I am completely pro-vaccine. I think it’s ridiculous to not vaccinate your kids if they are old enough and healthy enough to do so. But the amount of work it takes to maintain accurate records when we move from system to system every one to three years is a true thorn in my side. And the amount of grief I’ve received from school boards and public health nurses for trying to maintain a schedule that doesn’t match their exact timeline would drive anyone to lose their temper. I’ve been made to feel like a BAD PARENT more than once because I refused an ‘out of order’ vaccine. It was particularly difficult during our two years in the US as our drug approval system is slower than theirs. If a vaccine is not approved in Canada, my children will not be getting it. I also particularly like how Ontario sends nasty letters to parents who have been out of country, warning them that failure to provide accurate vaccination records will result in their child’s expulsion from school.

    I agree wholeheartedly. Canada, you NEED a national health record system. You NEED to regulate vaccination requirements for educational institutions on a national level. And you NEED to support your military families as they navigate health care from province to province.

    • February 5, 2015 18:48

      Whenever I show the pathetic Ontario or New Brunswick immunization papers to medical staff in the UK, they ask to see the “real” immunization information. They “tsk” and turn their nose up at our forms because they are so informal and have such potential to be inaccurate.

  2. February 5, 2015 20:03

    I must have had at least 3 different immunization records growing up (army brat). They’re very easy to misplace, and such important information really does need to be backed up. Do you mind if I show this blog post to my editor?

  3. February 19, 2015 20:47

    Thank you for this post! You’ve inspired me to make a “well-kid” appointment with our family doctor to ensure that our records are in tip top shape. We may have a posting in the somewhat near future. 🙂

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  1. Spotty vaccination records can leave Canada’s military families vulnerable | CMAJ Blogs

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