School nurses say pros of vaccines outweigh cons

Some local school nurses are encouraging families to make sure their children are vaccinated before the start of school.

It’s an idea that lines up with a public service announcement the state departments of Health and Education released earlier in the week that coincides with its campaign: “Don’t Wait. Vaccinate.”

And it comes during National Immunization Awareness Month.

“Getting children all of the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s immunization schedule is one of the most important things that can be done to protect kids from serious diseases,” Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said in a statement. “When children are not vaccinated, they are at increased risk for serious illness and can also spread diseases to others in their classrooms and community.”

According to the state, vaccines help protect children against 14 “childhood diseases.”

In Pennsylvania, children are required to have certain vaccines before entering kindergarten, seventh grade or when attending a commonwealth school for the first time.

They include diphtheria, tetanus and acellular pertussis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, polio and varicella, also known as chickenpox.

Children entering seventh grade also need additional immunizations of meningococcal conjugate and tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis.

Some local schools, however, have exceptions to the requirements.

But many local school nurses said the pros of vaccinating outweigh the cons.

“I always recommend that the students receive their recommended vaccines,” Penns Valley Area High School nurse Polly Nicosia said. “I personally do not feel the risks outweigh the rewards.”

She said, however, there are some families in the district who do not vaccinate their children.

Those families are required to provide the district with a statement about why they choose not to.

It includes medical and/or religious reasons, Nicosia said.

“(It’s) kind of like a waiver,” she said. “If there is a medical reason, we require a physician’s note of explanation.”

It’s similar at Bald Eagle Area School District.

Middle and high school nurse Cindi Stanton said there are students in the district who also are not vaccinated.

“Like most, if not every school district, we do (have unvaccinated students) because Pennsylvania is still one of the states that accept philosophical beliefs, so we have some who elect not to vaccinate for specific reasons,” she said. “Those are the kids I’m most worried about.”

At Penns Valley Area, there has been at least one report of the spread of illness commonly prevented by vaccines.

Nicosia didn’t specify the illness.

When it happened, however, she said she contacted the students who were not vaccinated, and who had been in contact with the sick student.

In the event of a potential outbreak, the doctor who diagnosed the ill student must report the incident to the Department of Health, which then notifies school nurses who alert families of the students not vaccinated.

“It’s very rare that you would have a reaction to a vaccine, but it’s the belief system of some that the body can naturally fight off diseases,” Stanton said. “As medical professionals, we’re not seeing the cons so we encourage it (vaccination). In these cases, I’m less worried about the kids who got their shots, and more worried about the students not immunized because they’re more prone to contracting the disease.”

Speaking on behalf of Penns Valley Area, Nicosia said the district abides by state and federal regulation for immunization requirements.

“The nurses track each student and contact those families whose child is not in compliance with the regulations,” she said. “We contact through email, phone calls and letters. If we are unable to get compliance, we elicit the administration’s assistance as needed.”

District administration is then annually required to submit a report to the state on kindergarten and seventh-grade compliance.

“The Department of Health provides a list of those vaccines that are required for each student to attend school,” Nicosia said. “Our district has updated our policy this school year to require all students to have the required immunizations before the first day of school to be in compliance with the state.”

Prior to this year, there was an eight-month grace period for families to get their child vaccinated.

Both nurses also urge students and their families to be vigilant in limiting the spread of any illness.

That includes washing hands, covering coughs and sneezes, and keeping a child home when he or she is sick.

Britney Milazzo: 814-231-4648, @M11azzo

Upcoming vaccination clinics

The Department of Health is holding immunization clinics in the commonwealth through Sept. 2 to provide vaccines at reduced cost to families with children 18 and younger who are Medicaid eligible, uninsured, under insured, American Indian or Alaska Native, according to a report from the DOH. The clinics are by appointment only. Other requirements include:

▪ $5 fee for families who don’t meet minimum income guidelines

▪ Vaccination records must be provided during scheduled appointment

▪ A parent or legal guardian must accompany the child receiving immunizations

Centre County schedule

Contact: 865-0932, must call to make an appointment

Saturday: 1-3:30 p.m. at Centre Life Link, 125 Puddintown Road

Wednesday: 3-7 p.m. at Centre Life Link

Aug. 23: 3:30-7:30 p.m. at Centre Life Link

Aug. 26: 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Centre Volunteers in Medicine, 2520 Green Tech Drive, Suite D

Aug. 27: 1-3:30 p.m. at Centre Life Link

Aug. 31: 5-8 p.m. at Centre LifeLink