Hundreds of Ottawa high school students are out of school suspended over out of date immunization records. Doctors are fielding frantic calls from parents scrambling to get their kids vaccinated and back in school. School boards say they're just following the provincial law on this. There is a strict policy called “the immunization of school pupils act”. Parents are warned months in advance that their children's immunization records are not up-to-date. If they don't heed the warnings, their kids will be suspended for 20 days.

16-year-old Josh Measures is supposed be starting his 20 day suspension today, along with hundreds of other high school students in the Ottawa area.

“Twenty days is a long time for not having shots,” says Measures, outside John McCrae Secondary School.   

On Monday, his mother got a letter from Ottawa Public Health saying he didn't have an up-to-date tetanus shot so he was suspended.

“Tell the parents what to do and don't punish the kids,” says his mother Karen Beutel.

Beutel says it was her mistake not informing Ottawa Public Health some time ago that her son's shots were in fact all updated.

"He was up to date and maybe as a parent I didn't know I was supposed to call public health and tell them but that was years ago and I didn't know to do that. So to suspend my child was completely wrong.”

Josh is in school today, but twenty-two other students at John McCrae started their suspension today until they prove they've either got the shots they need or they get them.  Ottawa Public Health says about two thousand letters of suspension were sent out. About 890 students were on suspension as of Wednesday.

At a Barrhaven medical clinic, Dr. Jane Liddle says her office has been fielding calls from frantic parents for two weeks.  Dr. Liddle says public health is right in pushing kids to get immunized but she questions how that message is being delivered.

"We've got a lot of teenagers who are dealing with a lot of anxiety for other reasons,” says Dr. Liddle, “so to create one more layer, I am a bit concerned so I do think 20 day suspension is a bit harsh.”

Public Health says it's following provincial legislation that requires proof of immunization. Parents would have received two warnings before the suspension notices went out, the first in November and the second in February.

"By the time we get to the final stage which is suspension,” says Dr. Carolyn Pim, Ottawa’s Associate Medical Health officer, “the vast majority of parents have already responded.  This final step tends to get their attention.”

Dr. Pim says parents need to realize the importance of proper immunization, not only for their kids but for others around them.

Dr. Liddle says if there is one positive in the suspensions, it has gotten kids into her office to update their shots and given her an opportunity to remind parents that they, too, need to be re-immunized for their tetanus shot every ten years.

This, coincidentally, is World Immunization Awareness Week.