The Kansas Department of Health and Environment has boosted the immunization requirements for the 2009-2010 school year.
The new requirements affect students in preschool through ninth grade. In 2010, there will be new requirements for all students.
“The need for vaccination coverage, based on the disease outbreaks that we’ve had, overrode the need to gradually phase in requirements,” said Sue Bowden, director of KDHE immunization program.
While these are new requirements for students to attend school, they have been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for years, and most doctors and health professionals have been following them.
Among the new requirements are three doses of the hepatitis B vaccine for sixth- through ninth-graders. Last year, the vaccine only was required for kindergarten through fifth grade. During the 2010-2011 school year, it will be required for all students.
Another requirement concerns the varicella, or chickenpox, vaccine. In August, kindergartners will need two doses, instead of just one. While students in first through fifth grades needed one dose last year, KDHE has added grades six through nine for the coming year. During the 2010-2011 school year, all students will need two doses.
“We are motivated to get children protected against the disease,” Bowden said. “We have had varicella outbreaks across the state.”
She said the department is requiring two doses because too many students were contacting the deadly disease with just one dose and at an older age.
“The older the kids get, if they don’t have protection against the disease and they come down with it, they become much more ill than younger students,” Bowden said.
While most students have either had the chickenpox or a vaccination, schools need documentation. If they don’t already have the documentation, they will need documentation from a licensed physician.
Sonja Gaumer, nursing services facilitator for Lawrence schools, said finding the proper documentation for the junior high students could be challenging for a number of reasons, including that students may have moved from out of state or a doctor may have retired.
“It’s one of those things parents keep track of when their kids are little because they are going to the doctor a lot, but then after they stop, a lot of people are like, ‘We can’t even find their vaccination records. We don’t know when it was.’” Gaumer said.
The district’s school nurses now are notifying parents about what immunizations their children might need.
“We are looking at their immunization records to make sure that we have everything in the computer, exactly how it is on their immunization record, and make sure we haven’t missed anything, so no one has to unnecessarily get an immunization that they don’t need,” Gaumer said.
For students who aren’t insured or can’t afford an insurance deductible or co-payment, the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department can help. They have access to the federal Vaccines for Children program, which provides immunizations for free for those who qualify. The health department does charge an administration fee.
For students who don’t have insurance and might not qualify for the program, the immunizations are not cheap. At the health department, they cost between $29 for hepatitis B and $96 for varicella.
But the health department doesn’t deny services on the ability to pay and is willing to work with parents.
“One way or another, we can get children covered,” said Kathy Colson, the department’s immunization team leader.
Colson encouraged parents to not wait until just before school starts to get the required immunizations. “If I could just spread everybody out between now and the first day of school, that would be wonderful,” she said.