By Tia Lynn Lecorchick Staff Writer
As the back-to-school hustle and bustle comes into full swing this week, parents need to be aware of a few key changes to the immunization requirements and recommendations for school students, particularly beginning seventh-graders.
Beginning this year, students entering the seventh grade are required to provide proof of receiving two new booster immunizations: Tdap, a booster immunization for tetanus, diphtheria, and Pertussis, or more commonly known as Whooping Cough, and a MCV4, meningococcal conjugate vaccine, to protect children from Meningitis. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, Pertussis is a bacterial infection that can easily spread causing severe coughing fits and missed days of school. Meningococcal disease is a serious bacterial illness that affects the brain and the spinal cord. Meningitis can cause shock, coma, and death within hours of the first symptoms.
“I am a huge believer in vaccines,” said Leah Ainslie, Nurse Manager for the Health Department. “My biggest message is that vaccines are safe and effective. The reason we don’t see a lot of the diseases that are happening in other countries is precisely because of vaccinations. Vaccines allow our children to be healthy, able to learn and to be productive. I strongly believe in vaccines and everybody should get them.” Ainslie noted that all vaccines required and recommended have been tested and approved by the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices (ACIP), and American Academy of Pediatrics. Proof of both vaccinations must be documented on the Georgia Immunization Certificate, Form 3231.
Unless they have an exemption, all students born on or after Jan. 1, 2002 and entering seventh grade must have proof having received the Tdap booster shot and MCV4 shot. This includes current and new students in both public and private schools.
For parents without health insurance or with plans that do not cover these vaccines, the Georgia Department of Public health recommends contacting your local health department to inquire about no to low cost vaccines.
Ainslie also urged parents to get their kids other recommended vaccines that aren’t required yet, including the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine. “Seeing trends that we normally see, these will probably be added to the required list eventually,” explained Ainslie. Ainslie also noted that the HPV vaccine, which protects from cervical cancer and certain strains of genital warts, is actually recommended for both girls and boys, from ages 9 to 26. Ainslie explained that as vaccines have developed, many children have missed pertinent vaccines during early childhood and need to “catch up.”
Other vaccines are required to prevent the following diseases: Hepatitis B, Hepatitis A, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b),)Polio, Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR), Varicilla Zoster (Chickenpox), and Pneumococcal.
Ainslie offered some practical advice for parents to help ward off sickness in their children. “Soap, water, and good hand-washing skills go a long way,” said Ainslie. “If you train you child to wash their hands well before they eat, go to the restroom, or after playing outside, the chances of becoming ill is greatly reduced.” Ainslie also encouraged parents to be mindful of other children when their own child is sick, urging parents to keep sick children at home and not allowing them to return to school until at least 24 hours after a fever has passed or 24 hours after starting antibiotics.
The required health screenings that test vision, dental and hearing for students is another issue parents regularly question. “Health screenings are not meant to be just another hoop for parents to jump through to get their kids into school, but to make sure kids don’t have any medical problems that will impede upon the learning process,” explained Ainslie. “We want to make sure all children is healthy and able to learn to the fullest of their abilities.” Contact the Morgan County Health Department for further questions at: 706-752-1266.