It's that time of year again. The school supplies are back in stores and the new fall clothing lines have filled the racks, signifying that the return of school is right around the corner. It's also time for parents to get their children up to date on vaccinations.
Melissa Fettig, registered nurse at First District Health Unit in Minot, said changes in vaccination requirements are happening in the schools, specifically that the North Dakota Department of Health is working to make sure that schools are following the state immunization requirements. The schools will stress that parents make sure all immunization requirements are met before allowing the child in school, she said.
For children entering kindergarten and who are up to date on all previous vaccinations, it is required that they have vaccines for Dtap (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), IPV (polio), MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), and varicella (chicken pox). The Dtap and IPV vaccines are usually given in combination, Fettig said, and the MMR and varicella vaccines are also usually given in combination.
Melissa Fettig, registered nurse at First District Health Unit in Minot, stands by a sampling of vaccines required for children entering kindergarten and seventh grade. There are some additional vaccines that are recommended, but not required, and Fettig suggests children should receive those as well.
Melissa Fettig, registered nurse, pretends to give a shot to Danell Eklund, registered nurse and County Nurse coordinator, in one of the exam rooms at First District Health Unit in Minot on Monday. With the start of school not too far off, now is a good time for parents to bring their children in for immunizations.
For children entering seventh grade, it is required that they have the meningococcal vaccine to protect against meningitis as well as the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria, acelluar pertussis) vaccine, Fettig said. Parents should also have their kids get the recommended vaccines, she added, and not just the required ones.
The North Dakota Department of Health recommends, but does not require, that all adolescents, ages 11 or 12, receive three doses of the HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccine, as well as two doses of the varicella vaccine if they have previously had the chicken pox.
Also needing to get vaccinated are kids who have fallen through the cracks and missed their required vaccines at the time.
Making sure children meet the required vaccinations before entering school has recently become a growing problem, however. There have been large numbers of exemptions, Fettig said. Exemptions include those with religious, philosophical or moral beliefs who are opposed to immunization.
"North Dakota is the fifth lowest in the nation for MMR (vaccination) rates," Fettig said, and that makes measles outbreaks immediate and puts everyone at extreme risk. The key message, she added, is that exemptions are not the answer. "Get your kids in for their immunizations before school starts and get them the required immunizations so that your child is permitted to start school," she said.
Fettig said there has been a big increase in parents citing exemptions for immunization. "As long as we allow exemptions, then we're allowing it to happen that kids aren't receiving vaccinations," she added.
She also said the concept of herd immunity, where vaccination of a significant portion of the population provides a measure of protection for individuals who have not developed immunity, doesn't necessarily work anymore.
A big problem in the drop in immunization has been the lack of consistency in the school system, Fettig said, probably because the education wasn't there. "We're trying to get the message out that you get vaccinated before school starts, not after," she added. However, she said it's going to be better enforced this year that immunization requirements are followed.
Another problem with making sure immunization requirements are met is that there are new kids in school who are missing their immunization records, Fettig said. If a person is from out of state and missing the immunization records, the parent can try to locate the records through his or her home state health department before their child's appointment for immunization shots. "No clinic will give shots without knowing what that child has had," she added.
"There continues to be multiple studies done on the safety and effectiveness of vaccines," Fettig said. "A lot of fears are from social media and anti-vaccination campaigns, but their fears are unfounded and science will tell them vaccines are safe and effective. We (at First District Health Unit) are here to help assure parents and answer any questions about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines."
Parents of children needing vaccinations can call the First District Health Unit at 852-1376 and make an appointment or they can make an appointment with their medical provider.