The Times West Virginian

Local News

July 18, 2014

Parents: Vaccinate children before school starts

FAIRMONT — Though it may seem that summer has just arrived, school will soon be starting up again. Parents whose children are entering kindergarten, seventh or eighth grade, or who have moved to the county from out of state, should start thinking about making a doctor’s appointment to fulfill school immunization requirements.

Children who are entering a West Virginia school for the first time for kindergarten through grade 12 must show proof of having received the DTaP, polio, MMR, chickenpox and hepatitis B vaccines. Seventh-graders must show proof of receiving the Tdap and a dose of the meningitis vaccine. Twelfth-graders must show proof of receiving the Tdap and a second dose of the meningitis vaccine if their first dose was given before their 16th birthday.

Jeff Neccuzi, director of immunization services at the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, said that parents should start making appointments with their doctors now.

“Pediatricians and family practice doctors get very busy this time of year,” Neccuzi said. “If you wait too long to get an appointment for your child, you might not get one in time.”

Donna Riffle, director of nursing for the Marion County Health Department, agreed that parents shouldn’t wait to the last minute. The Health Department offers an immunization clinic every Wednesday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“I would encourage them not to wait until the Wednesday before school starts,” Riffle said.

Children who are uninsured or underinsured, or children whose doctor does not have the vaccine available may all go to the Health Department for their vaccinations, Riffle said. If the doctor refers them, the doctor must fill out a referral form.

The Health Department can also bill PEIA and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurance, though children with either type of insurance should still come to the department with a referral.

And if parents can’t get an appointment for their child with their regular doctor, the parent can fill out a self-referral form so their child can get vaccinated at the clinic.

A parent or guardian must bring the child to the department, and should bring along the child’s immunization record.

Gary Price, superintendent of Marion County Schools, said that, in general, Marion County families are good about making sure their children are properly vaccinated before school starts.

“We really do have very good compliance,” Price said. “It’s very seldom they don’t want to comply.”

Some students who aren’t able to get vaccinated in time may still be able to go to school during in a “provisional enrollment period.”

“If a student is a first-time enterer and they do not yet have their vaccinations, they can go into a provisional enrollment period to get caught up,” Neccuzi said. “The parent would have a very limited time to get compliant, and if they still don’t get compliant within the period, the child would be excluded from school and miss days from school. And, of course, no one wants that to happen.”

If parents are unsure if their child has received all the necessary vaccinations, Neccuzi said they should check with their doctor.

West Virginia first started requiring school vaccinations in 1963, with revisions in 1987 and 2008. Then in 2012, requirements were added for entry into seventh and twelfth grades.

Immunizations are important for children’s health, Neccuzi said.

“Immunizations are important to protect children from easily preventable diseases,” Neccuzi said. “Vaccines are extremely safe, and have never been safer or purer.”

Neccuzi said that vaccinations are especially important given the crowdedness of the school setting.

“People are pretty physically close together for several hours a day. It is just so easy for diseases to pass from family to family, from child to child, and throughout a community,” Neccuzi said. “So that is where it is most efficient to protect a community from infectious diseases, by ensuring our school age population is immunized.”

Neccuzi said that because of West Virginia’s strong immunization laws, 96-97 percent of children have all the vaccinations required for school entry, while West Virginia has the second lowest rate of preschool age children fully immunized for their age, at only 61 percent.

West Virginia and Mississippi are the only states that do not allow religious exemptions to school immunization requirements.

Medical exemptions are allowed, however.

“If their healthcare provider documents the medical condition that contraindicates vaccination, then they’re exempted,” Neccuzi said. A child can be exempted if he or she is allergic to an ingredient in the vaccine, or have a documented serious reaction. If one child is exempted, siblings will not automatically be exempted.

Price said that it is important to note that vaccinations are a community health issue.

“Might you be able to go through school without vaccinations, and without serious repercussions? Yeah, you might. But if a whole bunch don’t have the vaccination, and someone comes in contact, as mobile as everyone is … people get exposed,” Price said. “You always want to make sure that children are having immunizations for the health of the entire community.”

Email Colleen S. Good at cgood@timeswv.com or follow her on Twitter @CSGoodTWV.

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