BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
July 18, 2014
LITTLE ROCK – Under new immunization requirements being considered by the state Board of Health, children who will be 11 or older on September 1 must have a Tdap shot in order to attend a public or a private school. The Tdap shot protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
Parents will be in compliance with Board of Health requirements if they have been taking their children to their family physician to receive their shots, as recommended by the CDC Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP).
Prior to this school year, the Tdap shot was required for students entering the seventh grade. The new requirement means that the majority of children will get the required immunization at a younger age, if they have not already had it, because most children are older than 11 by the time they enter the seventh grade. The ACIP recommends the Tdap shot for all children age 11 and older. Only one Tdap shot is needed.
The purpose of the change in immunization requirements is to better protect children who are at an age when they are likely to get pertussis, which is also known as whooping cough. It is very contagious and it can cause uncontrollable fits of coughing that make it hard to breathe. Some cases can even be fatal.
Health officials noticed an increase in the number of 10 and 11 year olds who got whooping cough, and that the number of cases declined in children old enough to be in seventh grade. The new requirement is expected to lower the frequency of cases in these children according to Health Department officials.
In 2013, public health experts noticed a spike in the number of cases of whooping cough. There were 466 cases reported in Arkansas, compared to 80 cases in 2011, just two years earlier.
Parents who choose not to immunize their children must get an exemption from the state Health Department’s Immunization Section. To do so, call 501-661-2169 or contact the department at this email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
Another new requirement for children’s immunizations that will take effect in the coming school year is that seventh graders must have received a meningococcal shot against meningitis. Also, students will have to receive a shot before they turn 16, regardless of their grade level. If they had a meningococcal shot before their 16th birthday, they will need to have a second one. Students who are 16 on or before September 1 will have until October 1 to get the shot.
There is a change in regulations governing chickenpox. Previously, children could forego the shot if a parent could show they had actually contracted the disease, but that method was beginning to prove unreliable. Under the new regulations, it will require the report of disease from a medical professional for a child to avoid the requirement for having varicella vaccine, which is the shot for chickenpox.
There are several other changes in the required schedule of immunizations. Following the ACIP recommendations of your family physician will more than satisfy the minimum requirements set out by the Board of Health. More information about the requirements can be found on the Arkansas Department of Health’s website at www.healthy.arkansas.gov.
The Health Department has an immunization registry that physicians, clinics and health care providers can access. The registry is a record of the immunizations given to children in Arkansas. Health care providers are obligated by state law to report to the registry all immunizations they give to anyone under the age of 22.