Kids Need Immunizations Before Starting School Year

With school quickly approaching and kids either making a big transition into elementary school or middle school, it’s essential to remember that there’s an important step to help promote a healthy school environment — immunizations.

Tim Heath, immunization Program Coordinator with the South Dakota Department of Health, told the Press & Dakotan that there are a number of immunizations required before a child enters school.

“For kids coming into kindergarten, (they need) four more doses of what’s called the DTaP vaccine, which contains antigens against diphtheria, pertussis — which is whooping cough — and tetanus,” Heath said. “One of those doses should be after the age of 4; four more doses of polio virus vaccine with one after the age of 4; two doses of the measles, mumps, rubella (MMR) vaccine; and then two doses of varicella vaccine, which is chicken pox vaccine.”

He said that kids moving on from elementary school will need a few immunizations as well.

“For kids coming into the sixth grade, the requirement is for one dose of the TDaP vaccine and one dose of the meningococcal conjugate vaccine on or after the age of 11,” he said. “Any transfer students coming in would need to be age-appropriate for the vaccines. For instance, if a kid came in in second grade, he’d need to be up to date with all the kindergarten vaccines, but if the same one transferred in in 11th grade, they’d have to up to date in all the kindergarten and sixth grade vaccines.”

Heath said no major changes have been made to the vaccine schedule between last year’s school year and this year.

With the anti-vax movement that has become more prominent over the last decade, Heath said that some parents have opted out.

“There has been a little bit of an increase in religious exemptions over the last few years,” he said. “Medical exemptions, we’ve not seen an increase and they’ve been pretty steady over the years.”

However, he said youths are still very well vaccinated in South Dakota, with kindergartners registering rates of 95.8% (DTaP), 95.9% (polio), 96.2% (MMR) and 95.5% varicella, while sixth graders have a 94.9% (TDaP) and 94.7% (meningococcal conjugate vaccine) rate in 2018-2019.

“We do really well,” Heath said. “If you get up in that mid-90 range, you’ve got really good herd immunity.”

Heath said that it’s important to remember that, even with as developed as the United States is, these diseases are not relegated to the history books.

“Vaccines prevent disease,” he said. “These diseases are not gone from the world. These are prevalent in a lot of places in the world. Measles is having a resurgence in the United States. We haven’t seen levels of measles like this since the early ‘90s. I know a lot of families haven’t seen these diseases. They didn’t have to deal with them growing up, but you talk with their parents and their grandparents, they all dealt with these diseases and know how devastating they are.”

He added that herd immunity is important for those who are unable to be vaccinated.

“It’s important to make sure that your kids are up to date on these vaccines to protect them from getting sick,” he said. “Also, there are kids who can’t get vaccinated because they have a medical contraindication — an allergy or have an immune deficiency or some other reason medically that they can’t get vaccinated. If everybody around them is vaccinated, it makes it a lot harder for a disease to get through and get that kid who would be vulnerable because he can’t get vaccinated.”

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