The required vaccines, according to a Georgia Department of Public Health press release, are for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis — or whooping cough — which also is known as the Tdap vaccine. The law also requires a meningococcal vaccine for students.
“Anyone born on or after Jan. 1, 2002, entering or transferring into the seventh grade, or any new entrant or any new student entering eighth through 12th grade, say they’re coming from out of state, it also affects those students too,” said Janet Eberhart, district immunization coordinator for Northwest Georgia Public Health. “But mainly to get into the seventh grade this year you have to have a dose of Tdap and meningococcal.”
The two vaccines, which cover four diseases, are important for preteens as their prior vaccinations may be losing their strength.
“Well, the Tdap is very important because that one: one, it’s going to give them a booster dose of their tetanus, but it also covers a booster dose for pertussis. ... They found that the vaccine tends to wane into the preteens, so they’re trying to do a booster dose for teens around age 11 or 12,” Eberhart said. “That age range, along with adults, they’re finding, are contracting that particular disease and then spreading it to the smaller infants who aren’t vaccinated yet against it, so we’re seeing a lot of complications and sometimes death in infants ages birth to 2 months of age. So this is going to kind of protect those young ones from getting this pertussis.”
Under Georgia law, according to the release, all public and private school students must get the booster shots. Charter schools, community schools, juvenile court schools and other alternative school settings are covered under the law. The only exception are those students who are home-schooled. However, the health department urges home schooling parents to vaccinate their children as well.
“It’s important to get these now because at this age their immune systems are so robust they really take in these antigens from these vaccines and just really are able to get a good immunity at this age,” Eberhart added.
In addition to the required Tdap, Eberhart said the health department recommended students to take the series of Human Papilloma Virus vaccine shots.
“That is a cancer-preventing vaccine and while they’re at the doctor’s office getting caught up on these vaccines, it’s a good time to go ahead and get the HPV series, a three-dose series,” she said.
Citing recent measles outbreaks, which the Center for Disease Control pegs at 18 from Jan. 1 to July 11, Eberhart stressed the importance of parents vaccinating their children. Though outbreaks were once nonexistent, she said, recent trends of parents not vaccinating their children, or delaying vaccination, is beginning to have an effect.
“It’s like out of sight, out of mind because really if you look at it, vaccines have done such a good job at eradicating or decreasing the number of cases we have of these vaccine preventable diseases, people don’t think about it or it’s not going to happen to me, so they think, ‘Well, my kid’s healthier, they don’t need it.’ ... This year alone, up to May ... there was around 288 cases of measles in the United States,” Eberhart said. “That’s huge. It’s all gone back to the data [that] shows that those who actually have that, the cases, they’re all unvaccinated. The same with pertussis. That’s coming back.
“... They’re all coming back because parents are choosing not to vaccinate. They don’t think about it. They don’t see it anymore. Same with polio. If you talk to some older people that lived in the ’50s and had to deal with polio and some of the disabilities and even death from that, you know, it’s very serious, but no one has lived through the effects of a disease like that because immunizations have worked so well and it’s starting to come back.”
Eberhart said most insurance programs cover vaccinations. However, she said a federal program called Vaccines for Children provides treatment for families that cannot afford the entire vaccination cost.
To schedule a vaccination appointment, parents are asked to call the Bartow County Health Department at 770-382-1920.