At this time of year, parents and students are busy scrambling about gathering the essentials to return to school such as notebooks, pencil, pens, etc. But for those entering the hallowed halls of education for the first time there is an additional item on the back-to-school menu – immunizations.
At this time of year, parents and students are busy scrambling about gathering the essentials to return to school such as notebooks, pencil, pens, etc. But for those entering the hallowed halls of education for the first time there is an additional item on the back-to-school menu – immunizations. Who must be immunized? With only a few exceptions, no child shall be admitted to a public or charter school in the state who has not been immunized against poliomyelitis, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough), red measles (rubeola), rubella, mumps, hepatitis B and varicella (chicken pox). An immunization record from a licensed physician or a public health department must be presented to the district in which a student is being enrolled before they can be admitted. According to the state Health Department, a district may temporarily admit a child provided the child becomes appropriately immunized, is in process of receiving the required vaccine, or shows proof they have applied for an exemption from those vaccines within 30 days of the child's original admission. “In Process” means the student has received at least one dose of the required immunization and is waiting the minimum time interval to receive the additional doses. School boards, superintendents and principals are responsible for enforcing immunization requirements in grades kindergarten through grade 12. Before 2003, only a few hundred Arkansas schoolchildren did not receive standard childhood vaccinations due to health conditions or religious beliefs. Number of unvaccinated children on the rise But once legislators changed the law and allowed parents to cite “philosophical” objection, the rate of students foregoing shots has been on the rise and health officials say the result is that people are unnecessarily contracting – and sometimes dying ¬– from diseases ranging from whooping cough to the flu. Dr. Dirk Haselow, chief of immunizations at ADH expects the number of unvaccinated children to continue to increase. At the start of the last school year, more than 3,500 Arkansas schoolchildren were unvaccinated. That's still less than 1 percent of the state's 468,000 public school students, but Haselow says its enough to allow diseases to spread. The trend in Arkansas is mirrored nationally. There's a whooping cough outbreak in the Pacific Northwest. Last year the disease killed 10 infants during an outbreak in California. Immunizations needed to control spread of whooping cough The Center of Disease Control has reported the largest number of whooping cough cases in the U.S. in 50 years – nearly 18,000 more than double the cases reported in 2011. Symptoms are usually mild before developing into coughing fits, which produce the high-pitched “whoop” sound. The coughing stage lasts about six weeks before subsiding. Haselow urges parents to get their children vaccinated from all diseases possible, saying he wouldn't expose his children to any unnecessary risks. All required immunizations can be obtained at the Phillips County Health Unit. The Associated Press also contributed to this report.