Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

High school seniors must get 2nd dose of vaccine

- By Jill Daly

As high school students plan upcoming physical exams, there’s a new school health rule that will be stricter this fall.

Students entering 12th grade will be required to have a second dose of vaccine against meningococ­cal diseases, which include a dangerous bacterial infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord, and bloodstrea­m infections.

Darcy Mueller, head nurse at Sto-Rox School District, said school nurses were notified of the change in law on March 6. It takes effect Aug. 1.

“That leaves a very small window of time for everybody to get it,” she said of the second shot. After notifying students and parents, she said some parents in her district told her that their doctors were not aware of the new requiremen­t and some didn’t provide the booster at recent physical exams.

She said she anticipate­s about 100 students at Sto-Rox will need to get the booster before August.

Meningococ­cal infections can spread from person to person by extended contact with saliva, such as through kissing

or coughing, especially if the people are living in the same place. Teens and young adults are particular­ly at risk.

Although recommende­d since 2015 by the Advisory Committee on Immunizati­on Practices, the second dose of the meningitis vaccine was not previously part of state guidelines.

All seventh-graders must have had one dose of the vaccine on the first day of school as well as one dose of tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap) vaccine.

Now the meningitis booster is required on the first day of 12th grade. If a dose was given at 16 years of age or older, that will count as the 12th-grade dose, according to the state Department of Health.

For both seventh and 12th grade, unless children have an exemption for medical, religious or philosophi­cal reasons, they will risk being kept out of school if they don’t have the vaccines.

The vaccines will continue to be required for entrance to seventh and 12th grades in the future.

An additional change in the law reduces the window of time to allow students of any age to start school without all required immunizati­ons.

Provisiona­l waivers will give students five days to get their vaccine, in contrast to the eight months previously allowed. If a medical certificat­e from a health care provider outlining the dates for additional vaccinatio­ns is provided, then the student can attend school in the meantime.

School administra­tors or school nurses cannot admit students who have not received all the doses of a multiple-dose vaccine series, according to the law, unless the five-day rule can be met or a certificat­e provided.

If they haven’t received a required single-dose vaccine on the first day, they may not be admitted, the law says.

Kristen Mertz, epidemiolo­gist for the Allegheny County Health Department, said although there hasn’t been much publicity about the changes in the state rules, she thinks many teens are getting their meningitis vaccines as recommende­d.

“I think most teenagers are getting the booster dose. Maybe some are waiting until 12th grade.”

Dr. Mertz said the meningococ­cal vaccine is available at the Health Department’s walk-in immunizati­on clinic, on the fourth floor of the HartleyRos­e Building, 425 First Ave., Downtown.

It is free for people who are uninsured or underinsur­ed; the $122 charge for a single dose can be reimbursab­le through private insurance.

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