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New school immunization rules adopted by state

Fri, Sep 26th, 2003
Posted in Features

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has adopted rules that set out new immunization requirements and makes several modifications to the current school immunization requirements.

Beginning with the 2004-05 school year, children in child care, kindergarten and seventh grade will need to show proof they are vaccinated against chicken pox (varicella) or have had the disease. Children under two years old in child care will need to show proof they are immunized against pneumococcal disease. Also effective in 2004, children entering

kindergarten will need to show proof of a second dose for the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine, while the required second dose will continue for children in grades 7-12 until 2012.

The new rules do not change the medical exemption or the option for parents to decline any or all vaccines for conscientious reasons. In fact, the rules include a provision that requires all childcare facilities and elementary/secondary schools to use the official MDH record form or a similar document approved by MDH when communicating to parents regarding immunization requirements and exemption procedures. This is in response to concerns from parents and others that the information schools and child care facilities send out does not always follow the law and does not always include information about the legal exemptions, as required. While legal exemptions do exist, it is strongly encouraged that all children receive the needed vaccinations, if there are no medical contraindications. This is especially true in Fillmore County, where a large ethnic group lives that does not generally receive immunizations. This leaves the rest of the population at increased risk to exposure to different vaccine preventable diseases.

These new immunization requirements are supported and recommended by major national medical groups, including the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the American Academy of Family Physicians (AFP). Forty-one states already require chickenpox vaccine. Minnesota joins six other states in taking the lead on combating pneumococcal disease through the vaccine requirement. In response to this new requirement, Fillmore County Public Health will begin offering the pediatric pneumococcal vaccine to its clients in October. For those people who receive vaccinations at their local medical clinics, be sure and inquire if your child is receiving this vaccine.

In addition, MDH has made a number of changes to existing school immunization requirements affecting such things as number of doses and dosing schedules, in order to bring Minnesota into line with national guidelines and make vaccines as effective as possible. Most of these changes go into effect this fall.

The department has adopted the changes following thorough review of current scientific research, extensive public meetings, talks with many different interest groups, and a hearing before an administrative law judge. The judge found that the department complied with all the necessary statutory requirements for making the rule changes. This included articulating the need for and reasonableness of the rules and soliciting input from affected parties.

The order adopting the new rules, signed by Minnesota Health Commissioner Dianne Mandernach, was filed with the Secretary of States office Sept. 9, 2003 and the department plans to publish the rules in the State Register on Sept. 29, 2003. The rules are effective five working days after publication, except for those portions that take effect fall 2004.

Gov. Pawlenty and I agree we need to make every effort to protect Minnesotas children against serious childhood diseases, Mandernach said. We also want parents and health care providers to work together to make sure families have the information they need to make informed decisions about immunizations. The adoption of these new requirements supports our efforts to maintain and even improve Minnesotas high rate of immunizations.

Contrary to popular belief, chickenpox is not a benign disease. In the five years before use of the varicella vaccine began, approximately four million cases of chickenpox occurred every year in the U.S., resulting in an average of 11,000 hospitalizations annually and 100 deaths. More than 80 percent of the cases and 40 percent of the deaths were in children. One of the most important effects of varicella vaccination is that it helps to prevent severe varicella disease and its complications, such as pneumonia, encephalitis and a form of severe streptococcal infection.

The pneumococcal vaccine protects against a type of bacteria that can cause blood infections, meningitis and pneumonia. Each year in the U.S., pneumococcus accounts for 60,000 blood stream infections and 2,700 cases of meningitis. It causes many more cases of pneumonia, which can be particularly serious in young children and in the elderly. Recently, the increase in antibiotic resistant strains of Streptococccus pneumoniae has made treating the disease more difficult, thus increasing severe illness. The vaccine has also helped reduce rates of antibiotic-resistant infections.

For more information, or detailed copies of the rule requirements, contact the Minnesota Department of Health Immunization Program at 612-676-5414, by e-mail at immunizerule@health.

state.mn.us or on the Web at www.health.state.mn.us/immunize. For general questions on immunizations, call Fillmore County Public Health at: 507-765-3898.

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