News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

January 10, 2013

Chickenpox outbreaks speed changes to school vaccination requirements

TERRE HAUTE — Five recent chickenpox outbreaks in Indiana, including one in Vigo County in the fall, have been a factor in expediting some new vaccination requirements for students in grades K-12.

For the 2013-14 school year, all students in kindergarten through 12th grade must have two doses of chickenpox vaccine or a documented history of having chickenpox disease.

Students in grades K-5 will need to have their history of chickenpox disease documented by a healthcare provider, according to the Indiana Department of Health.

By contrast, for the current school year in Indiana, two doses of the chickenpox vaccination are required for students in kindergarten through second grade as well as those in grades 6 through 12.

 Just one dose is required for those in grades 3 through 5.

Amanda Turney, of the state Department of Health, said that Indiana “has experienced five outbreaks [of chickenpox] in the past six months, three of which were school-based outbreaks.”

The Department of Health was already planning to add the new chickenpox vaccine requirement for students in all grades K-12, but “the outbreaks were a factor in making them a requirement sooner,” Turney said.

Also for 2013-14, the State Department of Health recommends — but does not mandate — that students receive the following immunizations:

• Kindergarten: Two doses of Hepatitis A vaccine.

• 11th and 12th grade: Booster dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine.

In November, Vigo County Health Commissioner Enrico Garcia declared a chickenpox outbreak in the county, and as a result, all Vigo County School Corp. students (as well as school staff born after 1980) had to receive two vaccinations, demonstrate a history of the disease or face exclusion.

The outbreak resulted in two mass vaccination clinics at Terre Haute South Vigo High School as well as other clinics at individual schools.

By early December, Vigo County had about 100 cases of chickenpox, and many of those affected had already had two doses of vaccines.

Local health officials and others in the community wondered why so many people optimally immunized developed the disease, although in a milder form.

In response to the state’s new vaccination requirements for next fall, Ray Azar, Vigo County School Corp. director of student services, stated, “We have known that this might be the new standard. The situation in Vigo County made the state health department more aware of the number of students caught in the ‘middle’ who had met previous requirements but who were in need of additional vaccinations under an outbreak. I believe that this new requirement will address those issues in the future.”

He believes the school district is in good shape for next year, when the new requirements take effect. “I think we’re in better shape than we ever have been because of what has taken place” with the outbreak and subsequent clinics, Azar said.

Joni Wise, administrator with the Vigo County Health Department, said she hopes the new chickenpox vaccine requirements prevent outbreaks such as the one that occurred here.

She was one who had expressed concerns about children with two vaccinations still getting the disease. Wise, and many others, were asking why  the vaccine didn’t work in so many cases.

Time will tell whether the new chickenpox vaccine requirement is effective or whether changes or improvements are needed, she said.

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