Local school, public health officials keep focus on immunizations as outbreaks spread concern

by Kate Evans

Officials with Morgan County Schools and the Morgan County Health Department have said they have measures in place to ensure that children here are immunized against contagious diseases like measles and mumps.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports confirm there are now 626 measles cases in 22 states including Maryland, with outbreaks in New York City, New York State, New Jersey, California, Michigan and Washington.

It’s the second largest number of measles reported in the United States since measles was eliminated in 2000. There are also cases of mumps at Temple and Indiana Universities.

Schools and state code

West Virginia Code 16-3-4   mandates the immunization of children entering any school or state-regulated child care center. The law requires children to be immunized against chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.

No child may be admitted to school until they’ve been immunized against these diseases unless a medical exemption certificate is granted.

A licensed physician must request the medical exemption and state that immunization is contraindicated due to the child’s condition or there is a specific precaution to a particular vaccine.

The Morgan County School Board also requires hepatitis A, Haemophilus influenzae type B (Hib) and Pneumococcal conjugate (PCV) for preschoolers entering schools with grades k-12 along with the above required immunizations as age-appropriate.

Morgan County Schools Child Wellness Director Angela Beddow said that seventh and twelfth graders are also required to have the Tdap booster (tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) and that all colleges are requiring the meningococcal MCV4 vaccine.

Health department vaccines

Morgan County and Berkeley County Health Department nurse Angie Gray said that the Morgan County Health Department offers all CDC-recommended vaccines for children from birth to age 18 that are mandated in West Virginia.

These are hepatitis B, Dtap (under age 7) and Tdap (over 7)—(diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), haemophilus influenzae type B, Prevnar 13 (pneumococcal conjugate), polio, measles, mumps, rubella (German measles), varicella (chickenpox), hepatitis A, rotavirus and meningococcal (MCV4-4-strain and MB 1-strain). She noted that they’re seeing more of the meningococcal B strain now in this country.

Gray said they also offer the human papillomavirus vaccine which is not mandated in West Virginia along with influenza immunizations which contain two influenza A strains and two influenza B strains.

The health department sees more children than adults for vaccines because of the immunizations mandated for schools, she said. They also see a lot of adults come in for shingles, influenza and hepatitis A & B vaccinations and updated tetanus and pneumonia shots.

Gray said that measles was eradicated in the United States but the disease has come back because of states’ laxness in immunization requirements and exemptions. In some states, parents just sign a waiver to opt out of immunizing their child. Countries in Europe are also relooking at their vaccination requirements because they also got lax on exemptions.

“These are very safe vaccines and very important for our children,” Gray emphasized.

It’s important for people to get their children immunized, Gray said. Health departments, the CDC and pediatricians all recommend childhood vaccines. The number of adverse reactions to vaccines is very small and the benefits great.

Gray advised parents to speak to their pediatrician about vaccines and to watch where they’re getting information about immunizations because there’s a lot of misinformation on social media.

Exemptions

Morgan County Schools Superintendent Erich May and Beddow said there are no religious exemptions in West Virginia as in other states or preferential ways for parents to opt out of immunizations.

May, Beddow and Gray all said that West Virginia has some of the most stringent immunizations requirements in the country.

Medical exemptions are a lengthy process and involve cases where children have had allergic reactions to specific vaccines or are on immunosuppressant drugs or chemotherapy.

Beddow said they might have two students a year where a vaccine could compromise a child’s immune system due to chemotherapy or immunosuppressant drugs.

Beddow noted that immunizations are cut and dry for the average student but with any medical complication, student immunizations can get complicated.

Immunization campaign

Beddow said Morgan County Schools is sending home constant   reminder letters about needed student immunizations and health exams.

The difficult grades and cases are kindergarten students and new students moving into the area from other states that don’t have the same immunization requirements. Every year they have to call a number of parents and track down their child’s vaccination records before school starts.

School officials have put immunization posters up at the middle school and high school.

Head nurse Gina Mellott had t-shirts made for kids to wear at several schools to encourage immunizations, she said. The school system also uses phone notifications to remind parents about children’s’ immunizations.

The school system hasn’t had any cases of measles or mumps, Beddow said. They run reports every week on illness, check new enrollees’ paperwork and keep abreast of student absences.

Superintendent May said that his children are immunized and that he and his wife believe in immunization the same way they believe in antibiotics. The net benefits of immunization are that vaccines save millions of lives worldwide.

There are a lot of shots for parents to keep track of with their children and schools are there to help, May said.

 

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