Immunization of Newcomers

Immunization is a key part of ensuring the complete health of newcomers, as well as Canadian citizens. Due to ongoing conflict in many refugees' country of origin, they might not have received effective immunizations. As a physician, it is important to ensure the safety of your current patients, and provide the best care possible to newcomers. As such, making sure immunizations are up to date for all newcomers is of the utmost importance.

Before or immediately after the arrival of any newcomer to Canada (immigrant or refugee), Citizenship and Immigration Canada proceeds with the Immigrant Medical Examination (IME). It is important to note that the IME does NOT include a review of immunization; therefore it is the duty of the primary care provider to perform a thorough health assessment of newcomer patients, including their need for certain vaccines.

If a newcomer does not have records, they can be considered unimmunized and should be started on an appropriate immunization schedule as soon as possible, considering their age and other health risk factors. On top of standard immunization in Canada, the following vaccines are especially recommended for newcomers:

  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Rubella-containing vaccine
  • Varicella-containing vaccine
  • Inactivated polio-containing vaccine (IPV)
  • Pertussis-containing vaccine

KFL&A Public Health is a resource to help determine which immunizations are required. A vaccination team is available to answer questions regarding publically funded vaccines and the immunization schedule. Additionally, there are drop-in and scheduled vaccination clinics available at 221 Portsmouth on Tuesday mornings and Wednesday afternoons/evenings where immunizations can be provided. Contact KFL&A Public Health at 613-549-1232 or 1-800-267-7875.

For more information about recommended vaccinations for newcomers, visit Part 3 of the Canadian Immunization Guide: Vaccination of Specific Populations

It's also important to note that immunization of newcomers might pose a challenge due to the following reasons listed on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website:

  • Immunization records do not exist
  • Immunization schedules that differ from Canada
  • Language barrier that makes it difficult to understand records (either complete or incomplete)
  • Doubt concerning the authenticity of immunization records

For further guidelines on dealing with immunization schedules that differ from Canada, visit the World Health Organization’s site on global summaries for immunization schedules. For information regarding specific catch-up immunization schedules for children six and under, ages 7-17 and adults 18 and older, visit: Publicly Funded Immunization Schedules for Ontario (October 2015). 

Catch-up schedules for immunizing refugees can also be difficult. However, the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has an Immunization Annex, which is a guideline for planning immunization activity for Syrian refugees that is applicable to refugees from all over the world. 

For more information about vaccination schedules for a variety of populations, contraindications/adverse events following previous immunizations and even vaccination of persons with compromised immune systems, refer to the Canadian Immunization Guide found on the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website.