New shot requirements begin: Varicella (chickenpox) vaccination goes into effect July 1

Posted: Friday, April 10, 2009

Even though it's not quite summer, it's not too early to prepare for next school year.

In addition to the usual new notebooks and pencils, some elementary school students in Alaska will need immunizations before school starts this fall or by July 1 if they are attending child care.

Children in kindergarten through sixth grade will need to show proof that they have received two varicella (chickenpox) vaccinations or that they already have had the disease. Children in pre-school and Head Start or those attending child care who are not yet in elementary school will continue to need only one varicella vaccination.

Varicella is a contagious disease that usually occurs in childhood. Although many people think that it is not a serious illness, varicella can lead to severe skin infections, scars, pneumonia, brain damage and death. Serious disease complications are much more likely to occur in infants less than one year of age (too young to be vaccinated) and in unvaccinated children and adults who are older than twelve.

It is not possible to predict who will develop serious or even deadly complications from varicella infection. Persons who previously were completely healthy have been known to die as a result of this disease.

A single varicella vaccination is estimated to be effective for only 80 percent-85percent of children. This means that some persons who have received only one vaccination may remain unprotected.

Approximately one-third of these vaccinated-but-unprotected children will experience moderate disease if they get chickenpox. A second varicella vaccination greatly reduces the risk of disease among these unprotected children and has been shown to be 100 percent effective against development of severe disease.

A Varicella vaccination walk-in clinic will be held on Saturday April 18, 2009, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m at Kenai Public Health Center, 630 Barnacle Way, Kenai, AK.

To ensure children are protected against this disease, beginning July 1, 2009 verification that a child has already had varicella (or any other vaccine-preventable disease) will require confirmation by an Alaska-licensed physician (MD or DO), advanced nurse practitioner (ANP), or physician's assistant (PA).

These medical professionals must document this verification on an official state form that may be obtained from schools, healthcare providers, or the Alaska Immunization Program Web site . Documentation of history of varicella disease, signed by an Alaska-licensed MD, DO, ANP, or PA and dated prior to July 1, 2009, will continue to be considered valid.

Children who have had varicella disease may still receive the vaccine.

Unvaccinated children without an exemption will be excluded from attending school and school activities.

Reactions to varicella vaccination are uncommon and are usually limited to soreness and/or redness at the site of vaccination.

The stronger, naturally circulating virus is more likely to re-emerge in adulthood as shingles than is the weakened virus used in the vaccine.

Also beginning July 1, 2009, school immunization regulations require that students who need a 10 year Td (tetanus/diphtheria) booster, typically at age 14-16, receive Tdap vaccine (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis).

Outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough, are occurring in Alaska communities. This disease can be devastating to infants.

More information regarding the updated immunization requirements may be obtained at Kenai Public Health Center 335-3400, or by calling the Alaska Immunization Helpline 269-8088 in Anchorage or 888-430-4321 statewide.

Don't wait - vaccinate!

Special immunization clinic slated

A Varicella vaccination walk-in clinic will be held Saturday, April 18, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Kenai Public Health Center at 630 Barnacle Way, Kenai.

This article was provided by Tami Marsters, RN. Public Health Nurse with Kenai Public Health Center.

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