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Immunization requirements new for next school year

When school starts this year, children who are attending for the first time will have additional protection from childhood diseases, thanks to new immunization regulations from the Mississippi Department of Health.

The Mississippi Department of Health has released its new Child Care and School Immunization Requirements for 2007. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV7) has been added to the Child Care Immunization Requirements effective August 1, 2007, and a second booster immunization of the varicella (chickenpox) vaccine has been added to the requirements for school immunization effective for the 2007-2008 school year. This requirement affects all students who are entering a Mississippi school for the first time, whether they are starting kindergarten, or transferring in from out-of-state.

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine, which is sold under the brand name Prevnar, is used for the prevention of pneumococcal diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, blood infections, and middle ear infections. It has not been required previously, but says K.K. Wade, a nurse practitioner at Picayune Rural Health Clinic, most clinics that provide vaccinations have been giving this immunization. Most children should have already had this immunization, but parents can check with their local vaccine provider to determine if their child has already had this shot.

Most children have already had one varicella vaccination (marketed as Varivax) as well, but the new requirements involve a booster shot before school entry. The reason for the new booster, said Ms. Wade, is that “effectiveness from the first shot is usually around 80-85%, and the booster shot increases that effectiveness to 90%.” Students who are already in school do not have to have the booster shot, nor do any individuals who have already had the chicken pox. Both vaccinations can be easily obtained through any clinic that participates in the vaccination program.

The school systems are doing their best to help inform parents about the new immunization requirements. Poplarville Superintendent Gylde Fitzpatrick said that Poplarville schools are holding kindergarten pre-registration this Thursday from 3:30 until 6:30 P.M., and all day Friday, and parents are encouraged to come and to bring their children. By coming to this pre-registration parents can find out what immunizations their child needs and still will have time to obtain the immunizations before school starts.

Pearl River Central Superintendent Dennis Penton said notices regarding the new immunization regulations will be posted at kindergarten registration. Registration will be held Friday, March 23, at the Pearl River Central Lower Elementary School in the kindergarten hall from 8:00 A.M. until noon.

In the Picayune School District, Joaun Lee, principal of South Side Lower Elementary, said she will do her part to notify parents about the new regulations by sending out newsletters before the school’s July registration. “The new requirements are a good thing,” Lee said, “because immunizations not only keep our children healthy, but also improve school attendance.” Nicholson Elementary principal Vera Beech agreed and said that her school will send information about the new requirements with the fall registration packets, probably at the end of the current school year.

It is Picayune School District’s policy to notify parents of current immunization requirements when they register their children for the upcoming school year, said Jan Sweet, Nursing Coordinator for Picayune Schools. Ms. Sweet also said that the school system will be following the recommendations of the Mississippi Department of Health, which is orchestrating a statewide push to spread the news about the new immunization requirements. When contacted for comment, Elizabeth Grey, Media Representative for the Mississippi Department of Health, said a meeting is scheduled next week to plan the statewide campaign. Grey said the campaign will include tactics such as the distribution of fliers and brochures with details about the new regulations.

The only local school that will not see much impact from the new requirement is the Early Head Start program in Picayune. Nurse Pam Frazier, who works at the school, said that their students, who range in age from two months to three years, are already kept up-to date on their immunizations for their ages, and the new additions to the requirements will affect older, pre-school aged children.