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Non-immunized students to be excluded beginning Monday

Thursday, October 14, 2010

New immunization laws imposed by the state are causing some consternation for both parents and school officials.

Under the new law, which was announced by the Indiana State Department of Health in January, in addition to previously required immunizations, students in grades six through 12 must also have appropriately documented tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (Tdap), meningococcal conjugate (MCV4-Menactra) and two varicella (chickenpox) vaccines.

The law states children must have these vaccinations or cannot be admitted to school beyond the first day. However, the law does provide for a 20-day grace period.

"Obviously, we're beyond that," said Greencastle school nurse Polly Shuee, who works at Tzouanakis Intermediate School and Deer Meadow and Ridpath primary schools. "My numbers (of vaccinated students) in the elementary are really good ... the middle and high school aren't as good, especially in the higher grades."

Parents in Greencastle and Cloverdale were notified recently via a letter from the schools that if adequate documentation of their children's vaccinations were not on file by Monday, their children would be excluded from classes.

Kathy Custis, nurse and Greencastle Middle and High Schools, said she hopes no students are excluded.

"Some parents actually thought they were up-to-date until they got the letter," she said. "And all the students we sent letters for aren't lacking everything. Some of them have one and not the other two. Some of them have all of them, we just don't have any documentation."

Between the middle and high schools, Custis said, she sent out about 600 letters.

"In a lot of cases, the student has already had the vaccines, we just don't have the documentation," Custis said.

Cloverdale Middle School nurse Julie Williamson said as of Wednesday there were about 50 students in her school and about 12 in Cloverdale High School for whom proof of vaccinations had not been received.

She said there was an even split of students who hadn't had the vaccines and those who just hadn't submitted the necessary documentation.

"It's about half and half," she said.

Adequate documentation of immunization history can be a physician's statement, immunization record from a school corporation in which the child is no longer enrolled, an immunization record from the Indiana Immunization Registry (CHIRP) or a printed record from another state registry.

All documentation must include the month, day and year each dose of the vaccines was administered.

Parents can also present laboratory evidence of immunity -- a blood test for disease-specific immune globulin that measures immunity to disease. This is often used to confirm immunity when immunization records are not available or when there is a history of disease in a family.

Medical exemptions will also be accepted. This is a physician's certification that a particular immunization could jeopardize a child's health. The exact nature of the medical exemption must be in writing and signed by a licensed physician, and medical exemptions must be resubmitted each year.

Schools may also consider religious objections. The vaccines to which a parent objects on religious grounds must be specified in writing, signed by a parent and delivered to the school.

There is no requirement of proof, and religious objections must be resubmitted each year.

Custis said she has dealt with parents who strongly disagree with required vaccinations.

"They really tend to dig in their heels," she said. "Parents just need to realize that even if they don't like being told what to do with their kids, it's more important to keep them in school."

Schools are required to report immunization data to the state no later than Nov. 1.

"We've sent notices; we've sent notes home with report cards and there have been stories in the newspaper," Custis said. "We have to get this done. The state is going to audit us, and they're going to want proof (of number of vaccinated students)."

A walk-in clinic is set for 3 to 8 p.m. today at the Putnam County Health Department for "any last-minute stragglers," said Kathryn Thomas, a nurse at the health department.

"They're free, so there are no more excuses," she said.

The clinic is open to students ages 11 through 19.

"We hope it's going to be a madhouse," Thomas said. "We really want people to take advantage of this opportunity. We have the staff in place to handle it."

Thomas said many parents have complained that they were unaware of the new law, and that they just found out a week ago their children needed additional immunizations.

"I don't know how that could be, seeing as the schools have been sending home notes since January," she said.

Thomas said the newly required vaccines were, in the past, something the state allowed parents to make sure their children had "at their convenience."

"At this point they're saying, 'We left it up to you and it didn't get done,'" she said.

Thomas said Indiana is in the bottom 10 percent of states with regard to the number of vaccinated children.

"Having this many vaccines and this large of an age group having to have them is a major undertaking," she said.

The Putnam County Health Department is located in the Putnam County Courthouse Annex at 209 W. Liberty St., Greencastle. For more information, call 653-5210.

The vaccines are also available free of charge at Johnson Nichols Health Clinic in Greencastle (although donations are accepted). To make an appointment, call 653-8244.

Questions about Indiana's vaccination laws can be directed to the Indiana State Department of Health Immunization Program at (800) 701-0704.

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I have two comments on this issue. First of all, shame on you, Mrs. Shuee. Yes, it is important to keep children in school, but to exclude them from school because of the religious beliefs of the parents or family? I do not agree with that at all. That is wrong. A child's education is important, and by excluding them, you are showing them discrimination.Way to go GCSC!As for Kathryn Thomas and her comment, 'They're free so there are no more excuses'. I would hardly call a religious belief or medical issue an excuse. There are way too many judgemental people floating around this town!

-- Posted by churchmouse on Thu, Oct 14, 2010, at 3:23 PM

I have never agreed with the State in making the chicken pox vaccine mandatory. Chicken Pox isn't a deadly disease for most. The poor children that have died from the illness (in my opinion) are the ones whose parents didn't pay close enough attention. Hopefully, they will never try to mandate the H1N1 vaccine because my children will never get it!

-- Posted by indianaresident on Sun, Oct 17, 2010, at 10:24 AM

Churchmouse- perhaps you should make sure you fully understand the situation before you accuse anyone of discrimination. No one will be excluded because they refuse vaccinations due to religious beliefs. If they object because of religion, they simply need to fill out a form stating that they are not vaccinating due to religious beliefs. You are right about one thing though- there are way too many judgmental people floating around this town, and you are apparently one of them.

-- Posted by gclocal on Tue, Oct 19, 2010, at 11:45 AM

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