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Crunch time approaching for childhood vaccinations

Minnesota law requires kindergartners and 7th graders to get vaccinated before the first day of school. The Minnesota Department of Health recommends parents get their children immunized now before clinics get swamped at the last minute. (Photo by Amanda Mills, CDC)

Back-to-school time is stressful for both students and parents. Lists of school supplies, new clothes, learning a different schedule and locker combination — the next month can quickly overwhelm without the right preparation.

As if the list of things to do wasn't long enough, there's one other important thing for parents to remember and for students to dread: immunizations.

Minnesota law requires children to get vaccinated for a multitude of diseases in order to start kindergarten and continue onto grade 7. With only a few weeks before the first day of school, health officials recommend getting kids their jabs soon in order to avoid added stress this fall.

The Minnesota Department of Health recommends parents check with their health care providers now to make sure their children are up to date on vaccines, and have enough time to schedule an appointment in case they are not.

The following is a list of vaccines required by the state in order for a child to start kindergarten:

• Hepatitis B

• Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP/Td/Tdap)

• Polio

• Measles, mumps and rubella (MMR)

• Varicella (chicken pox)

Once students reach seventh grade, they will need to get a tetanus booster, second round of MMR vaccine and a hepatitis B series under state law.

Unless parents file for an exemption, a student will not be able to start school without proof of immunization filed with the district, according to the Red Wing public schools website.

Conscientious objection

Although parents can have immunization requirements waived over medical reasons or because they oppose their use, it is generally rare, said Vicki Iocco, Goodhue County public health nurse and immunization coordinator.

According to the newest data released by the MDH and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 96.1 percent of Minnesota kindergartners started school with all required vaccinations — a number that has held steady since 2005.

In the 2010-11 school year, nearly 1,200 kindergartners in the state were exempted from the vaccination requirement, according to the MDH. In more than 95 percent of cases it was because of conscientious objection to the vaccines.

Parents raised concerns over childhood vaccines at an administrative hearing regarding proposed changes to the state's immunization law last June.

The new law would add a meningococcal vaccination to the requirements for seventh-graders, and require children entering child care get both hepatitis A and B vaccinations.

Some parents choose not to immunize their children because of fears over potential side effects like an increased risk for autism, and because certain vaccines were created by growing viruses in human cell cultures derived from aborted fetuses in the 1960s, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The CDC, MDH and a number of health organizations refute the claim that vaccines are linked to autism, but the debate shows no signs of waning.

"Every man-made thing is not 100 percent safe," Iocco said. "There can be side effects to immunizations, but the benefits always outway the risks."

She added that in the rest of the world without vaccinations, as many as 18 children die every hour from measles.

'Herd immunity'

Getting a high percentage of students vaccinated is important to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases, Iocco said.

When enough students are vaccinated, it creates a phenomenon known as "herd immunity," also called community immunity, she said.

If only a small percentage of the population is susceptible to a disease because of immunizations,that means fewer people will get infected and makes it less likely to spread, reducing the risk of outbreaks, according to the CDC.

"It protects people who might not be vaccinated or have weakened immune systems," Iocco said.

Low-income help

Goodhue County Health and Human Services offers immunizations clinics for children and adults who do not have health insurance, or whose insurance does not cover vaccines.

Walk-in clinics are held 2 to 4 p.m. Tuesdays in room 104 of the Government Center.

With school starting soon, the clinics tend to get busy, but Iocco said they are prepared.

"We're used to it," she said.

For more information or to schedule an immunization at a different time, call 651-385-6100.

To order a copy of a child's immunization record, contact the Minnesota Immunization Information Center by calling 651-201-5503. An immunization schedule and fact sheet can be found onthe MHD website at

Ouch! Fighting through the pain — and fear and needles

Getting vaccinated can be a traumatic experience for children. Ditto for adults.

"I don't think I've seen a single person I've immunized who likes needles," said Vicki Iocco, Goodhue County public health nurse. "Even big biker types covered in tattoos."

But Iocco said there are a variety of ways to make the process more bearable.

For very young children, Iocco said nurses practice the five S's:

• swaddling

• positioning them on their side or stomach

• shushing sounds

• swinging

• sucking on a pacifier

For older kids, something as simple as blowing on a pinwheel can help keep them occupied during the shot.

"It provides a distraction," Iocco said.

Some shots also can cause lingering pain beyond the needle poke.

"Tetanus shots are notorious for causing muscle aches afterwards," Iocco said, adding that the key to reducing pain is to try and keep muscles relaxed when the vaccine is administered.

Michael Brun

Michael Brun joined RiverTown Multimedia at the Red Wing Republican Eagle in March 2013, covering county government, health and local events.  He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-River Falls journalism program.

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