Back to school: Immunizations!

While parents and children are picking out new notebooks and shopping for brand new tennis shoes, health officials are reminding them to take children to be immunized by the required schedule before entering school.

With just about a month before class is back in session, children have just a short while left to complete the doses required for certain age levels by the state of Ohio.

City and county health departments are standing by to dole out the vaccines during the last weeks of summer, when MMR and tetanus shots are about as frequent as flu shots in the winter.

“I’ve seen a big increase in the last two weeks,” said Barb Piehowicz, director of nursing at the Washington County Health Department. “I’ve been going through Tdap and meningitis shots like water, so you can tell it’s almost school time.”

No new requirements for school-age vaccinations are in place this year, but children entering kindergarten still need to get their fifth DtaP, which comprises diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; their fourth polio shot; their second MMR, which comprises measles, mumps and rubella; and their second vericella shot, which is for chicken pox.

“Those are the ones they need before kindergarten, and they have to have those all done before they walk in the door,” Piehowicz said. “But they do give them two weeks to get them done, because some parents wait until the last minute to do them, and school nurses will send notes home reminding them.”

The fifth DtaP and the second MMR are the final round of both vaccinations.

Vickie Kelly, director of nursing for the Marietta City Health Department, said she has not really noticed any new trends or changes in attitudes, besides coverage about the MMR vaccine.

“The biggest thing we’ve seen in the past two years is the talk about the MMR vaccine causing autism,” she said. “That was one doctor, and it was big for us when it was proved wrong.”

Piehowicz said most parents are fairly compliant with vaccination regulations, but a few are still hesitant.

“We do have a parents that come in and get only one shot at a time, and I’ve had a mom concerned about the MMR being all mixed together,” she said. “I can probably remember about five moms that do just one shot at a time out of concern.”

Required vaccines take a break until children reach junior high at about age 11 or 12.

Before entering seventh grade, children are now required to receive the Tdap, which is comprised of tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

“Years and years ago they called it the ‘seventh grade shot,’ because back then that’s when you got a second MMR,” Piehowicz said. “Now we recommend having that already done in kindergarten, so when they enter seventh they need the Tdap instead.”

The Tdap vaccine lasts 10 years, which means children will be set for required vaccines until they leave for college, where they should receive meningitis vaccines if they attend.

“It’s also suggested to get a meningitis shot in seventh grade instead, then get a booster when you go to college, but it’s not required,” Piehowicz said.

Jonni Tucker, public health nurse with the Marietta City Health Department, said when seventh grade students come in for their required shots, nurses also recommend Gardasil, the series of immunizations that guard against human papillomavirus.

“When we started that it was all young girls, and now it’s young men, too,” Piehowicz said. “There’s more out there about it and more research about it, and we recommend they get it before they become sexually active.”

Tucker said whether families just want the required shots or want all of them, sooner is always better than later.

“We’re starting to get more people in, and it’s definitely a good time to come rather than wait until the last week to get those immunizations,” she said.

Immunizations received at health departments are sent to state registries for data collection, meaning parents do not have to worry about sending proof to schools themselves.

In West Virginia, similar requirements exist for those entering kindergarten and seventh grade, but those entering high school are also required to provide proof of a Tdap booster and a meningitis vaccine.

Most private doctors offer vaccinations for children and adults, and CVS, Walgreens and Rite Aid pharmacies typically offer Hepatitis A and B, meningitis and Tdap shots, but the Washington County Health Department and Marietta and Belpre City Departments offer all required vaccinations.

All three charge $10 per shot for childhood vaccinations, and no one is turned away due to an inability to pay.

“And I’m always here in the mornings, too, because I know parents have busy work schedules too,” Piehowicz said.

Tucker also stressed to parents to visit to learn more about the different types of vaccinations and read frequently asked questions that parents often have.