We are all familiar with the back to school flurry to procure pencils and notebooks, backpacks and shoes. This year the Ohio Department of Health wants to remind families to add vaccinations to their back to school lists to prevent rare and infectious diseases that harm children.
“Getting children all of the vaccines recommended by CDC’s immunization schedule is one of the most important things parents can do to protect their children’s health and that of classmates and the community,” said ODH Medical Director Dr. Mary DiOrio. “If you haven’t done so already, now is the time to check with your doctor to find out what vaccines your child needs, and when.”
According to the ODH, a new meningococcal vaccine requirement takes effect under Ohio law this fall.
Debbie McQuiniff, Fayette County Health Department immunization coordinator and registered nurse, explained the new requirements Wednesday during a telephone interview.
“This is the first year that the vaccine is a requirement for both seventh and 12th graders. All incoming seventh graders must have one dose of the meningococcal vaccine. All incoming 12th graders must have a second dose of the vaccine. Some parents went ahead and got their kids the menningococcal vaccine when they were 11 or 12-years-old. If they did, they need to get a second one if they’re entering 12th grade,” said McQuiniff.
But, said McQuiniff, if a student never received the first meningococcal vaccine at 11 or 12-years-old, and they are entering their senior year, they will be given just one vaccine.
McQuiniff said seventh and 12th graders need the meningococcal vaccine that covers strains of serogroup ACWY, which will prevent things like meningococcal disease and meningitis.
“Kids this age, especially when they are in sports, they share water bottles, that sort of thing. It typically starts out with cold or flu symptoms and it progresses rapidly. It can be deadly,” said McQuiniff.
“It can cause kids to lose limbs. It is very serious,” said McQuiniff.
Of the approximately 1,000 people in the United States who develop meningococcal disease each year, 10-15 percent of them die, and one in five live with permanent disabilities such as brain damage, according to the National Meningitis Association website.
“I know a lot of kids aren’t excited about vaccines, but when parents look at what it protects the child against, how devastating these diseases can be, parents should be excited. There are diseases out there that can harm our children and we want to protect our children,” said McQuiniff.
Those students entering seventh grade will also need a Tdap vaccination for tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis, depending on how up-to-date their vaccines are.
There are requirements for children entering kindergarten, as well, according to ODH.
“It depends on how up-to-date their immunization is. For kindergarten, they need a DTaP, they need a Polio, an MMR, and they need a Varicella or Chickenpox vaccine,” said McQuiniff. “It’s best if a nurse reviews their record and let them know what they need. If someone is behind, they may need more than what is typically required.”
But, said McQuiniff, for kindergartners who are up to date, they would need one of each.
“We have combination vaccines. It is possible to get a combination vaccine Kinrix, that’s the DTap and Polio together. It’s a possibility, depending on their record, but they could get that combined,” said McQuiniff.
As for billing, McQuiniff said there are several options available.
“We can bill Medicaid, Molina, CareSource, Buckeye, Paramount, Medicare, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield, Cigna, Medical Mutual, Ohio PPO Connect. If they have one of these, they will not owe anything, and we will bill the insurance,” said McQuiniff.
For those who do not have insurance or for those whose insurance does not cover vaccinations, the Fayette County Health Department is part of a state program called Vaccines for Children (VFC).
“If they call the health department, the nurse on duty will talk to them. They can come in any day of the week Monday through Friday, 8-4:30, we take people on a walk-in basis. We also offer appointments on Tuesday afternoons, if somebody would rather come by appointment,” said McQuiniff.
“I’m a mother myself of four. Many years ago we had to worry about these diseases affecting our children. Now we have people who came up with ways to protect our children.What a wonderful thing that I get to play the role of helping to protect our children, and work in the community as a public health nurse,” said McQuiniff.
But some parents choose to opt out of vaccinations for their children. Steve Calandrillo, professor of law at University of Washington School of Law, said vaccinations are vanishing.
“Increasing numbers of parents are refusing immunizations for their children and seeking legally sanctioned exemptions instead, apparently fearing vaccines more than the underlying diseases that they protect against. A variety of factors are at play: religious and philosophical beliefs, freedom and individualism, misinformation about risk, and over-perception of risk,” wrote Calandrillo in a peer-reviewed journal of medicine.
“The whole issue of vaccine safety is that we’ve always been told that vaccines are safe. But we’ve never really explored the other side, are vaccines unsafe?” said Sherri Tenpenny, a medical doctor in Middleburg Heights, Ohio.
She said having an antibody doesn’t mean a person will be protected from the illness they have been vaccinated against.
“Recently we have seen outbreaks of mumps and pertussis. In the mumps outbreak that happened in Iowa… we found that 67 percent of the children who contracted mumps had at least one, many of them two, MMR vaccines, so they should have been protected from mumps,” said Tenpenny.
“We use the words vaccination and immunization as though they were synonyms. They are not. Vaccination, by definition, is the act of giving a shot and that is what vaccination really means. Immunization means that you have become immune. You don’t necessarily become immune from a vaccine,” said Tenpenny.
Reach Ashley at the Record-Herald (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton