County says many lack shots for school

May 25, 2006|by KAREN HANNA


New vaccination requirements could have students and parents scrambling for shots this summer.

Almost 3,300 Washington County Public Schools students still need to show proof of immunization against the chickenpox virus, according to Rhonda Reid, a Washington County Health Department nurse.

The state is accelerating its phase-in of new rules that require students to show documentation of inoculation against the chickenpox and hepatitis B viruses. While vaccines against both viruses have been required of students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, next year's rules extend the requirements to students in ninth grade and younger, said Greg Reed, a program manager for the Maryland Center for Immunization.

According to figures provided by Reid, 3,295 Washington County students need the hepatitis vaccine - a three-dose series of shots - while 1,132 students will need to have the chickenpox vaccine or produce documentation from a doctor that they have had the virus.


Children 13 and older must get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine, Reid said.

As long as they have started the series of vaccines against chickenpox and hepatitis B, Reid said students will be eligible for school in the fall.

Students whose shots are out of date may be kept out of school when classes start in the fall, but school system spokesperson Carol Mowen said that rarely happens. Parents with children who need the shots may go the Washington County Health Department, Reid said.

"We exclude very few students in the state of Maryland, which we think is a very good thing," said Reed, who works for the immunization center as part of the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

According to Reed, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene estimates 45 percent of students in grades 6 to 9 still need to prove they have been inoculated against the chickenpox virus, and about 19 percent of students in grades 6 to 9 still must get shots against the hepatitis virus.

About 5,000 people in the United States die of hepatitis B each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Hepatitis B is spread when the blood from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. Not all people exposed to the virus will get sick from hepatitis B, which can destroy the liver. One in 20 people in the United States will be infected with the virus during their lives, according to the CDC.

"You want to make sure these kids get vaccinated for that disease before they start engaging in those risky behaviors," Reed said.

Before a vaccine became widely available, chickenpox led to about 11,000 annual hospitalizations, and the virus killed about 100 people in the United States each year, according to the CDC.

The CDC recommends children be vaccinated against both viruses.

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