Canada is ramping up its program that vaccinates newborns against the flu, despite backlash over a mandatory option

TORONTO – A program that more than doubled the number of children who receive the infant cold and cough vaccine over the summer is ramping up efforts this fall after an uproar about a move by a Canadian province to refuse to make the vaccine mandatory.

Within a matter of days, Health Canada banned the use of syringes for administering the vaccine, which is called COVID-19, in Ontario last week, prompting a wave of complaints. The decision affects patients enrolled in medicare programs in the province.

The move comes as public health officials around the world increasingly find it difficult to curb the use of personal-use, homeopathic forms of vaccinations, in part because doctors and pediatricians have grown complacent about the safety of such unproven treatments.

Several months ago, a San Francisco television station reported that medical students trained in such practices were purchasing naloxone, a lifesaving opioid antidote, from a storefront drugstore chain and then using it to administer injections of vaccines against exposure to H1N1 and measles.

For their part, Ontario experts say they remain confident in the safety of a vaccine that had passed routine clinical trials for more than 70 years and had no side effects of note in 1,300,000 doses administered over the past four decades.

The vaccine was required by all mothers in the province for the first time in 2016 when parents could not enroll their children on the spot. But the requirement sparked broad debate, as parents wrote in petitions demanding that their children not receive the vaccine for child-bearing reasons.

With those parents still complaining, Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliott announced this month that the requirement would be dropped, and the one-dose-only rule implemented immediately.

“There’s nothing unsafe about the baby vaccine, so to deny it just isn’t right,” Elliott told The Globe and Mail. “We will find ways to make sure babies are protected.”

But the move caused an uproar – and thus the need for Ontario’s program to step up its efforts to reach its population of 1.8 million children, according to the Ontario Vaccine Benefit Administration, which oversees the program.

After the ban by Health Canada, provincial health officials met last week to hammer out strategies. One plan is to offer the free vaccine first at multiple locations where there are dedicated parents and caregivers who must vaccinate their children to receive benefits from medicare. Health Canada will also supply the vaccine to the locations.

Before its fall rollout, the program will provide 13,500 free doses of the vaccine to parents and caregivers who have been vaccinated against the flu at the two primary sites, community centres and doctors’ offices, according to the program. Another 10,500 doses will be sent to the Ontario Medical Association for doctors to administer.

Other provinces have not taken the same tack.

In Australia, as many as 35 percent of licensed doctors may hand out vaccine without advising patients to see their pharmacist or schedule an appointment, according to an investigation by the New South Wales Health Authority. In a separate investigation, the royal commission in Britain reported that some unlicensed physicians had administered vaccines without approval.

According to a paper published this year by the Committee on Infectious Diseases, medical and medical-related concerns with alternative and personal-use vaccines “appear to have subsided in most countries.” That paper cited numerous positive study results, including in China, the Netherlands and Spain.

In a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, Howard Simon, a health official with the Australian Vaccination Network, said his non-profit organization surveyed physicians and found that 85 percent of them were willing to give vaccinations to patients who expressed a reluctance.

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