(CNN) — There’s a measles outbreak in Toronto, and the hot spots aren’t a few isolated cases or community immunity.
It’s an instance of the disease blowing up within a police force — and officials say it’s due to nearly 90% of police missing the vaccination deadline.
Toronto Police say 87 of the force’s front-line employees are taking advantage of the an exemption to the mandatory immunization against measles, mumps and rubella (MMR).
The 89 officers and 36 civilian staff who haven’t received the vaccinations are being placed on indefinite unpaid leave. More than half of those are on field duties.
“That means that they are not wearing their uniform and they are not working,” Toronto Police Chief Mark Saunders said at a news conference Friday.
“There are health concerns in relation to our police officers that they did not comply.”
He said an independent third party is looking into why so many officers didn’t get the required vaccinations.
Since May, the Toronto District School Board has received five cases of measles, the TDSB said in a statement Friday. Two cases were confirmed at the city’s public high schools, and three cases were confirmed at York University.
Each case has been under investigation by Toronto Public Health Services and there is no risk to school-aged children.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Police Service Immunization Branch has received 225 vaccination certificates since May, the chief said.
Saunders said the moves are a result of a long-standing practice among his officers.
“Police officers are well aware of this program. They are well aware of what is required by the Ontario Health Care Consent Guidelines and they have always complied.”
Saunders said he hasn’t heard of any other police departments grappling with the same issue.
A spokesperson for Toronto Police said there is no constitutional right to skip the shots.
Measles is an infectious disease caused by an airborne virus that is characterized by a rash that begins on the face, then moves up the body, an itchy rash that spreads through the eyes and mouth, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
After fever, cough, runny nose and sensitivity to light, a rash then appears.
The symptoms usually appear around 10 days after exposure to the virus, the CDC says.
Most infected individuals become sick 10 to 12 days after exposure. Symptoms may be mild and they may disappear within six weeks.
Severe cases can include pneumonia, encephalitis, bronchitis, or die.
The affected Toronto Police officers had received their measles immunizations before the May 31 deadline.
Saunders said city and provincial governments are trying to get the paperwork cleared up.
“We’re working very closely with the government of Ontario, with the Ministry of Health and [their] representatives to see what we can do through their human resources division to help,” he said.
Health officials say it’s the second measles outbreak in Toronto this year. Another outbreak this year led the city to launch a public education campaign and ask all public schools and preschools to isolate students whose immune systems could be affected.
Other cities, including Portland, have been battling measles outbreaks this year.