And now you’ll see these anti-vaccination billboards at your local school

As he has for the past decade, Dave MacDonald, executive director of the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, would spend a morning walking around the area and writing a heartfelt message to the children, students and staff at Eastview Public School.

“It’s always about the kids,” said MacDonald, whose hospital has hosted monthly morning teas at the Ottawa public school since it was established in 2001. “I asked the teachers, ‘What can I do for you and your students?’ It’s very humbling.”

Eastview made the rounds last week, with posters, flyers and a “fiercely energetic video” that ends with a copy of the hospital’s Patient Information Sheet directed to the school’s female students and parents. “Should a health crisis happen, our goal is to quickly make everyone aware of the potential symptoms and to arrange for immediate entry and treatment.”

Parents and students in Ottawa’s east end received letters about the billboards, which are part of a national campaign developed in partnership with the Canadian Vaccine Information Council and the Ottawa Public Health department, aimed at reducing the childhood vaccination rate to 94 per cent.

Despite its success, the level of vaccination rates remains below the government mandated 85 per cent standard, and is 9 percentage points lower than the best-case scenario.

The billboards and fliers are part of the nation’s largest campaign to raise awareness of vaccine-preventable diseases, which many blame for the spread of several serious illnesses, including measles and mumps.

While Ottawa’s health department has linked its low vaccination rate to a rise in vaccine hesitancy among young parents, some communities have cut corners on immunization by signing up parents for “free clinics,” and ensuring doctors receive incentives to offer inoculations.

Some parents cited social media critics, particularly The New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof, as the cause of the decreased vaccination rates.

The origin of the message to Eastview has not been revealed to parents, however, without providing an option for parents to write “C” next to the words “celebrate getting” and then a dollar symbol.

Many schools have already raised awareness of the public health measures by asking children to sign a consent form to have their shots, though medical professionals say many families don’t read the information.

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