Vaccine season begins

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 23, 2003

As the humidity climbs and the days grow hazier and hotter, the end of summer seems like a distant dream - unless you're a child. For area youngsters "summer" is about to come to a crashing close as schools open across the county and in Andalusia and Opp over the next two weeks. Opp City Schools open August 4, Andalusia City Schools begin August 7, and Covington County Schools open August 13.

Before the students head back, there are many things to be done to prepare them, especially if they are changing schools or enrolling for the first time. Besides getting notebook paper, pencil and glue, these students need to get their immunizations up to date.

"This and April are our busiest times of the year," said Valarie Cochran, R.N., Policy, Epidemiology and Education director for the Immunization Division of the Alabama Department of Public Health. "April is when they register kindergarten kids."

Many of the vaccinations should have been given to the children before the first birthday, although some require "boosters." By the time a child is one year old, it is recommended that he or she have received all doses of immunizations for Hepatitus B, diphtheria, tetanus, acellular pertussis, haemophilous influenzae B, pnuemococcal conjugate vaccine, varicella (chicken pox), and measles, mumps and rubella.

Not all vaccinations are required for all ages and grades, according to Cochran.

"The chicken pox (varicella) vaccine will be required for anyone going into kindergarten, first and second grades this year," she said. "Next year, third grade will be added."

A relatively new addition to the list of immunizations, the varicella vaccine will, by 2013, be required for all school-age children.

While April and the weeks just before school begins are always busy at the local health departments, this year will be even more so, due to the diphtheria-tetanus booster shot required for students ages 11 to 16.

"We've been out of that for about two to three years," said Cochran. Because of the shortage, the vaccination was not required, but now it is - which means the students who did not get it in the last three years will have to do so now, tripling the number usually visiting the clinics for the shot. Cochran estimated about 180,000 children in Alabama will be required to get the vaccination, instead of the usual 60,000.

Recent reports have indicated a link between the mercury used in vaccinations and the rise of autism in the nation, but Cochran said there has been no evidence to substantiate the allegation.

"The mercury used in vaccines is minimal," she said.

She advises parents to contact their local health department before school starts to determine their current immunization status and to see if appointments are necessary to bring the children up to date.

While the schools require children have up-to-date vaccinations, exceptions can be made on the recommendation of a child's doctor, especially if the child has had an adverse reaction to previous inoculations or has other health problems that could be affected by the vaccine.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), most people do not experience side effects from the vaccines, or only mild reactions such a fever or soreness at the injection site. Those can be relieved by giving the child a fever reducer such as acetaminophen - never aspirin - before and after the shots.

After the child is vaccinated, the CDC suggests parents look for any unusual conditions, such as a serious allergic reaction, high fever or behavior changes. Signs of a serious allergic reaction include difficulty breathing, hoarseness or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness, and swelling of the throat. A physician should be contacted immediately.