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For every student's sake, get your children their shots

August 23, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

If you live in Pennsylvania and can't prove that your child has been vaccinated against chicken pox, or has already had the disease, you should make an appointment with your doctor or state health clinic as soon as possible. A new state law will require parents to submit that proof this fall, or see their children barred from the classroom.

Some individual school districts had required the vaccination prior to this year, but the new law doesn't allow anyone to opt out, making Pennsylvania one of 35 states with that requirement.

State officials went to mandatory vaccination because while chicken pox is often considered a mild childhood disease, in some cases it can profoundly affect a child's health. Cases on file show that some children have lapsed into a coma and been hospitalized for months.

How effective is the vaccine. Experts say that it will prevent the disease from 70 to 90 percent of the time. If a vaccinated child does get the disease, the experts say it's much less likely it will be a severe case.

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If your child has a medical condition that makes it dangerous for him or her to be vaccinated, exemptions can be granted in those cases, or for children whose parents object to the vaccination program on religious grounds. However, unvaccinated children who show signs of the disease are not allowed to remain in school if they get chicken pox.

Chicken pox is just the latest vaccine required for school children. The must-have list of shots now includes measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus and hepatitis B. In addition, college students must be vaccinated for meningitis or sign a waiver saying they object to the idea.

In most cases, childhood diseases are only an inconvenience, with young patients enduring only a few days in bed, a restricted diet and some soothing salve. It's that small minority who would otherwise get violently ill the vaccines are meant to protect, so for the sake of the whole school population, get your children their shots.

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