By Blaine Herbst
The deadline for students getting their vaccines was Aug. 10, the first day of school. But nearly nine weeks into the school year, only half of the student body has complied, according to school nurse Carol Gelatt. The IDOH’s new guidelines are for three new vaccines this year, that children in all grades six to 12 are required to have; the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, the meningococcal (meningitis) conjugate vaccine, and the Tdap (pertussis) vaccine.
The IDOH announced new requirements student vaccines on Jan. 26, 2010, for the 2010-2011 school year. After a chickenpox outbreak of 11 students at Zionsville High School, to date, all students have been vaccinated. Since then, there has been growing concern over what CHS is doing to protect its students.
“What we’re meaning to do is protect kids from vaccine-preventable diseases,” Gelatt said.
“Indiana law requires that all students must have on file a completed record of their immunizations with the month, day and year of the immunizations. This must be completed and accurate on the health survey form before the student is allowed to attend classes,” Gelatt said. “Some students have already had the vaccine but have not turned in the paperwork. Some students still need to get the vaccine and turn in the paperwork, and some people have done both.”
Despite only half the student body complying with this policy, school has resumed as normal. Zionsville schools, on the other hand, have a new policy. If students do not comply with these guidelines by getting the vaccinations, and another student catches one of the three medical conditions, the students who were not vaccinated, and do not have religious exemption, must leave school for 21 days. To date, CHS has not implemented this policy, but is instead giving students more time to get their vaccines.
Students here have mixed reactions to the information.
“I feel like (the vaccines) are a good idea, but how the school informed the students wasn’t very considerate,” junior Ari Robbins said. “It wasn’t considerate because it was really close to the beginning of the year and so everyone had to rush to get them, even though they required you to get at least two to four shots. I just remember my mom getting the notifications and freaking out because we had so little time.”
Gelatt said she understands the frustration outbreaks can cause, but said it’s really important students get them as soon as possible. Chickenpox, while generally mild when caught as a child, can be more severe with older patients. According to the World Health Organization’s website, meningococcal disease and Tdap’s illnesses can be fatal as well. The Tdap vaccine protects people against diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw) and pertussis (whooping cough). The meningococcal vaccine protects people from meningococcal meningitis, a deadly bacterial form of meningitis that comes in four different forms (types A, C, Y and W135, all of which the current meningococcal conjugate vaccine blocks) and can likely cause side effects of meningitis, septicernia and, less likely, carditis, septic arthritis and pneumonia.
“Meningococcal is horrible. Anybody who has meningococcal will say, ‘I wish I had gotten that vaccine,” Gelatt said. “Meningococcal starts off with flu-like symptoms, but then it develops very rapidly, and some people disregard it and don’t get to a doctor in time. Meningococcal symptoms include having a severe headache, fever or a sore throat.”
Vaccinations will not be offered at the school but elsewhere. The Hamilton County Health Department will be offering vaccinations Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. until further notice, at a cost of $5 for one child and $10 dollars per family if people meet certain requirements. Students can also contact their personal physicians and doctors for the vaccinations and can go online to the State Department of Health’s website (isdh.in.gov), Hamilton County’s website (hamiltoncounty.in.gov), the Fight Meningitis website (fightmeningitis.com) or visit the health center here for more information on vaccinations.
Robbins said, “I think people should be vaccinated, but I think it should be with more rationality behind it. I think the Zionsville incident is just an example of how the school has no control over anything. They can’t decide when people get certain sicknesses, but then they scramble to fix it by implementing silly rules.”
Despite the frustrations this outbreak has brought students like Robbins, the Health Department still insists students get their vaccinations and paperwork done as soon as possible.
Gelatt said, “I think we need to focus on what’s best for you. Let’s get it done.”