Unvaccinated Ind. kids barred from classes

September 23, 2010 9:18:09 AM PDT
Northwest Indiana school systems today begin excluding students who have not yet received three new immunizations mandated by the state and federal government.The Indiana law mandating those vaccinations allowed schools to extend the deadline by four weeks from the scheduled start of classes to give parents more time to vaccinate their children. For most systems that date has already passed.

Valparaiso Community Schools Corp. starts excluding unvaccinated children Sept. 23, while Boone Grove schools start excluding nonimmunized children Sept. 27, according to Connie Rudd, director of nursing for the Porter County Health Department.

For weeks the health department has been staging mass vaccinations, including one Sept. 17 in which staff vaccinated 420 students. But Rudd said that still leaves approximately 4,500 unvaccinated Porter County school children.

Rudd noted the health department will conduct in-school vaccinations in the Valparaiso, Duneland and Union Township schools on the next three Fridays.

"We're trying to get this done en masse because of the large numbers we still have to vaccinate," Rudd said. She said student exclusions are not meant to be inflammatory or punitive. But she conceded it should get parents' attention, particularly if parents have to find babysitters or miss work.

Valparaiso Schools Superintendent Andrew Melin said that school system has communicated with parents of middle school and high school children for whom they lack the appropriate records, beginning in June of 2009, about the need for the vaccinations. Melin said the system has identified 157 students facing exclusion: 123 high school students and 34 attending middle schools.

"Exclusions begin Thursday for those kids," he said.

The three newly mandated vaccinations include a second chicken pox booster shot, a meningitis vaccine and a shot immunizing children against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly encouraged states to mandate the vaccinations and the Indiana General Assembly passed a law requiring them.

But school systems and local health departments have the right to exclude children who have not been vaccinated, though there are exceptions for families who have religious objections, can demonstrate documentation of immunity to the disease, have medical reasons for not taking the vaccinations or proof of vaccination appointments.

"We're trying to accomplish what the state and federal government has set forth to immunize these children and we're working together to get them immunized so they can stay in school," Rudd said. "Let's git 'er done."

Pat Warner, director of nursing for the Lake County Health Department, said her office has finished mass vaccination clinics and school clinics, but continues to immunize children from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Thursday at the Lake County government center in Crown Point.

Warner said she is unaware of any Lake County school corporation excluding unvaccinated children, but expects it to happen soon.

Warner said several local health departments offer immunizations by appointment only. "We do not take appointments and we offer the shots to any Indiana resident," she said. "Some people are coming to us from neighboring areas saying they couldn't get appointments for shots until December, so they're coming to us."

Warner estimated Lake County has at least 10,000 unvaccinated children attending school.

Patricia Breitweiser, supervisor of health services for the School City of Hammond, said exclusion notices will be sent out next week. Breitweiser said she didn't know the exact current number of unvaccinated Hammond school children.

"Parents are being notified and we hope the numbers of immunized children will go up," he said. "I'm cautiously optimistic."

"We're not ready to exclude students yet," said Mark Kellogg, director of primary education for the Lake Central School Corp. "But it's the next step. The good news is that it doesn't happen often. In the past parents usually step up to immunize their children."

In Gary hundreds of students have been vaccinated through Community HealthNet, a Gary-based federally qualified community health center that has established clinics in several area schools.

John Williams, director of personnel for Crown Point schools, said the 4,000 Crown Point children mandated to receive the shots have either been vaccinated or have made appointments to be vaccinated. He said the schools contacted parents of unvaccinated children to notify them that after Sept. 17 their children would be excluded unless they were immunized.

(Source: Sun-Times Media Wire - Copyright Chicago Sun-Times 2010.)


Load Comments