Students entering seventh grade this fall must be immunized against Hepatitis B

By Rozella Hardin

STAR STAFF
rhardin@starhq.com

   Two new immunization requirements for school entrance will take effect for the 2002-2003 school year. Children entering the seventh-grade this fall will be required to be immunized against Hepatitis B and children entering kindergarten must be immunized against chickenpox (varicella).
   Currently, kindergarten is the only school grade for which the Hepatitis B vaccination is required. The vaccine is given in either a two- or three-dose schedule and seventh-graders must have at least one dose to begin the school year and complete the series as needed during the school year.
   However, the Carter County Health Department has already begun vaccinating seventh-graders. In clinics this past week, a number of seventh-graders were given the second dose.
   Kathy Bowman, nursing director at the local health department, said the state has provided the vaccine free of charge, and personnel at the health department have administered it.
   The second shot is given about a month after the first vaccination, and the third shot, about six months after that.
   Bowman said there are about 700 sixth-graders this year in the Carter County and Elizabethton School Systems, and the health department has received 600 doses. "We are hoping that 15 to 20 percent of these students have already had the vaccines, which is very expensive," Bowman said.
   She noted that if a child has already had the vaccine during infancy or childhood, there is no need for additional doses.
   Hepatitis B is a serious disease caused by a virus that attacks the liver. The virus can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. "People of all ages get Hepatitis B, and one out of 20 people in the United States will get infected with the virus some time during their lives," Bowman said.
   She explained that The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends vaccinations for all babies at birth and all children 0-18 years of age, who have not been vaccinated.
   Since the introduction of the chickenpox vaccine in 1995, there has been growing acceptance and use of the vaccine and most children entering kindergarten have had the shot. "As children got older, chickenpox became a more serious illness and it is important that children who have never been vaccinated or had the disease be protected from this potentially deadly disease," Bowman said.
   Before the availability of chickenpox vaccine, approximately four million cases of the disease were reported annually, including 4,000 to 9,000 hospitalizations and 100 deaths.
   Children entering kindergarten who have had chickenpox are not required to have a varicella vaccination. However, if a parent isn't sure if they have had the disease, children should be immunized. If they have had the disease and get the vaccine, it will not cause any problems, Bowman said.