Your risks and responsibilities with an unvaccinated child

Adapted from If You Choose Not to Vaccinate Your Child, Understand the Risks and Responsibilities (World Health Organization Regional Office for Europe).

If you choose not to vaccinate your child, or to delay vaccines, it is important that you know how to protect your child, your family and others.

  • Inform your child’s health care providers of your child’s vaccination status.
  • Inform your child’s school, childcare facilities, and other caregivers of your child’s vaccination status.
  • Understand that unimmunized children can catch diseases from people who have a vaccine-preventable disease but don’t have any symptoms. You cannot tell who is contagious.
  • Learn the early signs and symptoms of vaccine-preventable diseases.
  • Seek immediate medical help if your child or any family members develop early signs and symptoms of these diseases.
  • Keep a record of any vaccines your child has received.

If your child visits a health care provider while ill:

  • It’s important to tell the medical staff that your child is not vaccinated (whether for some or all vaccines). This is for your child’s safety and the safety of others.
  • If your child has received some vaccines, let the medical staff know which ones.
  • When your child is being evaluated, the doctor will need to consider the possibility that your child has a vaccine-preventable disease, such as measles, mumps, or pertussis. This is important so that they can treat your child correctly and as quickly as possible.
  • If it is suspected that your child may have a vaccine-preventable disease, people who help your child can take precautions such as isolating your child, so that the disease does not spread to others who may be vulnerable.

If there is a vaccine-preventable disease in your community:

  • Consider changing your mind and getting your child vaccinated. Getting vaccinated late is better than never. Your child may be able to get some protection by getting vaccinated. Talk to your child’s doctor or a public health nurse.
  • Your child may be asked to stay home from school, childcare, or organized activities, such sports and playgroups, until it is safe to return. Be prepared to keep your child home for up to several weeks.
  • Learn about the disease and how it is spread. It may not be possible to avoid exposure.

If you know your child has been exposed to a vaccine-preventable disease for which they have not been vaccinated:

  • Contact your child’s doctor or public health unit for advice.
  • Learn what symptoms to watch for and get urgent medical care if these symptoms develop.
  • Each disease is different, and the time between when your child might have been exposed to a disease and when they may get sick will vary. Your child’s doctor or public health nurse can tell you when your child is no longer at risk of developing the disease.
  • Follow recommendations to separate your child from others.
  • There may be medications for people who have been infected or exposed to certain vaccine-preventable diseases. Ask your health care provider.
  • Ask your health care provider about other ways to protect your family members and anyone else who may come into contact with your child.
  • You may get a call from your local health authority. Each of the health authorities has a team that follows up on cases and contacts of certain diseases.

Travelling with an unvaccinated child

  • Before travelling, learn about the disease risks in the country you are travelling to, and the recommended vaccines. Many vaccine-preventable diseases that are rare in Canada, such as measles and polio, are still common in other countries.
  • Consider having your child vaccinated before travelling. Learn more about travel vaccines here.
  • Know that if your child gets sick while travelling, they may not receive the same quality medical care they would receive at home.
  • If your child develops a vaccine-preventable disease while travelling, they should not travel by a plane, train, or bus until a doctor determines they are no longer contagious.
  • In certain instances, public health authorities may prevent people with vaccine-preventable diseases from travelling, due to the risk of disease spreading.

Learn more about why vaccinating your child is important.