As the next school year approaches, parents of kindergarteners and seventh-graders will be scrambling to meet Montana’s immunization requirements. If you’ve already taken care of these, bravo! College freshmen and transfer students also should check into their school’s requirements, and this is a great time to make sure these students’ immunizations are complete before they are independent and on their own. While those immunization records are out, why not double check that younger siblings, parents and grandparents are protected from vaccine preventable illnesses as well?
Recommendations change through the years, so don’t hesitate to call our immunization team at 443-2584 with any questions. We can provide the latest vaccine recommendations for your age and health status. If you don’t have your current record, we can help you track it down.
Requirements and recommendations
Kindergarten: Required — Booster doses of DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), Polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella); recommended — booster dose of varicella (chickenpox), hepatitis A.
Seventh grade: Required — A tetanus-containing vaccine (Tdap, which also protects against diphtheria and pertussis, or Td); recommended — booster dose of varicella (chickenpox); other adolescent vaccines including hepatitis A, meningitis, HPV (human papillomavirus); and pneumococcal vaccine for those with chronic health problems such as asthma and diabetes.
Younger siblings at higher risk
Because of Montana’s immunization law, most children are fully immunized by the time they enter kindergarten. But a recent report ranked Montana last out of 50 states for children immunized by age 2. Children up to age 2 are more vulnerable to illness than older children. Caregivers can help protect the littlest ones by getting up-to-date on vaccines themselves. Our community had an outbreak of pertussis (whooping cough) in 2005, and California is having one now — at least five babies have died. EVERY ADULT who has contact with a child under the age of 2 should get a pertussis containing vaccine.
Chickenpox and shingles
Children who have neither the vaccine series nor the chickenpox illness are at risk of having a much more severe illness if they contract the disease as an adult. Children need two doses of vaccine for protection. Also, after you have the chickenpox illness, the virus goes into your nerves and lays dormant. For 10 to 20 percent of the population, it reactivates later in life as the shingles rash. Complications such as chronic severe pain, permanent neurological damage and visual impairment may develop. Adults 60 and older can get the shingles vaccine.
Tetanus for adults, too
When most people think of tetanus, they think of stepping on a rusty nail or having a bad encounter with barbed wire. In fact, tetanus is commonly found in soil, street dust and animal and human feces. And while it certainly can enter our bloodstream through a puncture wound, it also can do so through more minor cuts, scratches and wounds, as well as through burns, street drugs and needle use. Once in the bloodstream, tetanus attacks the central nervous system and makes muscles contract, leading to lock jaw, stiff muscles, convulsions and often death. Tetanus continues to be preventable if you continue to get booster doses of the vaccine every 10 years. So when was your last tetanus shot? If it’s been longer than 10 years, get yourself a matching bandage when you take the kids in for theirs.
College students and meningitis
Students attending college or boarding school, joining the military or studying abroad should consider a meningitis vaccine. Close dorm-living conditions and shared personal items like drinks and toothbrushes may lead to a meningitis infection. Meningitis starts like the flu and then progresses quickly. It can lead to death or lifelong health complications such as hearing loss, seizures or brain damage. Also make sure that these students are current with Tdap and hepatitis A and B vaccines.
Make an appointment now with your health care provider, as many schedules fill up just prior to school starting. There’s no need for an appointment at the health department’s immunization clinic. Just come by 1930 9th Ave., Monday, Wednesday or Friday, between 11 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. We recommend you do it soon, because we also get busier as the school year draws near. We have a sliding fee scale for those who qualify, and we bill all insurance. It would be helpful to bring your child’s immunization record with you.
Why not schedule a dental check-up for August as well? That will save pulling a student out of school for it. If your student is new to a school, remember you’ll need to complete the school’s medical forms. Also, school athletes need sports physicals.
Finally, mark a reminder on your calendar somewhere around mid-October to schedule the family’s flu shots. This fall’s seasonal flu shots will include protection from the H1N1 virus. The Health Department’s Flu Hotline, 457-8904, will have availability details.
Melanie Reynolds is the Health Officer at the Lewis and Clark City-County Health Department. The Health Department’s mission is to improve and protect the health of all Lewis and Clark County residents.