Sixth graders face new chicken pox shots rule

A new Washington state law requiring sixth graders to receive Varicella immunizations — or chicken pox shots — this year before starting school may catch some parents off-guard, and school district officials are urging them not to wait.

Each year, students in all grade levels face a plethora of booster shots and follow-up vaccines before they can attend school.

Although schools don’t typically turn children away on the first day, parents end up having to take their children back to doctors or clinics to get kids immunized, said Frank Sullivan, director of school administration and student services for South Kitsap School District.

District officials began working with schools before summer break to get the word out to parents about the new chicken pox requirement, which already affects incoming kindergarten students.

“Most of our kindergarten parents take care of everything because we do such a nice job reaching them in the springtime,” Sullivan said. “But students moving into the area often come in at the last minute. Some haven’t even picked up their immunization record” from other schools.

The new chicken pox law stems from numerous outbreaks of chicken pox that hit school districts around the country each year, including several that affected Midwest states in February.

The shot can be controversial among some parents who view chicken pox as a fairly insignificant childhood illness that usually occurs only once in a person’s lifetime.

But according to Janet Kauzlarich, immunization coordinator for Kitsap County Health Clinic, if a child hasn’t had chicken pox before, they need the vaccine to attend school here.

“The concern with chicken pox is second infections,” Kauzlarich said. Chicken pox can lead to shingles, respiratory problems or other more serious neurological conditions, medical journals show.

Although most children’s infections last less than four days, the virus is highly contagious.

“Because of more bacteria and their resistance to antibiotics, we’re trying to get the children protected,” Kauzlarich said.

The vaccines are available at Kitsap County clinics on a walk-in basis, including at the clinic at Givens Community Center in Port Orchard. That clinic is open Tuesdays and Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

State and county health officials also have tried to make parents’ jobs a little easier through the Washington State Department of Health Registry, a new computerized system that enables doctors and clinics to record children’s immunizations into a database.

All five school districts in Kitsap County have viewing access to the registry, and Kauzlarich said the system has saved numerous students from having to have extra vaccines that weren’t recorded elsewhere.

Still, Sullivan said the biggest problem facing parents is record-keeping. Even the registry doesn’t track everything as physicians’ offices sometimes fail to input vaccines, especially those that require a series of shots. Students in grades 1-6, for example, require two measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations that are given 28 days apart.

“You almost need a Ph.D. to get through them all,” Sullivan said.

Complicating record-keeping matters for some military families moving to the area recently was Hurricane Katrina - of all things - which hit the Gulf coast region where the Navy keeps children’s immunization records, Sullivan said.

Some parents weren’t able to get access to records, and had to wait almost two months to provide proof of their children’s shots, Sullivan said.

“We deal with each one on a case-by-case basis,” Sullivan said.

For more information on children’s vaccinations for the upcoming school year, contact the health district at 337-5235 or the school district at 874-7000.

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