Local health officials are making a plea to parents to make sure their children receive needed immunizations before school starts next month.

One of the biggest areas of concern this year is students entering sixth grade and 12th grade, said Sherry Reinhart, nurse coordinator for Seymour Community School Corp.

Incoming high school seniors will need a second meningitis booster shot, and those starting sixth grade this fall will need their first meningitis shot and a Tdap booster vaccine which protects against tetanus and pertussis, or whooping cough, Reinhart said.

Other required immunizations include DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) hepatitis B, polio, MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and varicella (chickenpox).

Most parents realize kids need immunizations before starting kindergarten but often don’t know or forget that teens need shots too, she added.

“We have a large number of these students who have not had their shots yet,” Reinhart said of sixth- and 12th-graders. “And time is running out.”

Indiana code prohibits schools from allowing students to attend if they haven’t had the required immunizations.

Schools can issue waivers for up to 20 days to families unable to get their children vaccinated before the first day. However, families must provide a schedule of when the immunizations will be administered.

Only students with approved medical or religious exemptions on file do not have to get immunizations. Those exemptions must be renewed each year.

Reinhart said the immunizations are key in preventing serious diseases that could lead to other conditions or even death.

If there were to be just one case of any communicable disease at a school, any student who had not been immunized would be quarantined for at least 21 days.

The meningococcal vaccine protects against four strains of the bacteria that cause meningococcal disease. Such infections don’t happen often but can be very dangerous when they do, Reinhart said.

The two most severe and common forms of this disease are meningitis and septicemia.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord and can lead to brain damage, hearing loss, learning disabilities and death. Septicemia is a bloodstream infection, which can lead to limb amputation or death.

The disease is spread through close contact with someone’s saliva, such as through kissing or sharing eating or drinking utensils, especially with those who live in the same place, like in a college residence hall.

“When students return to school they are in close person-to-person contact, therefore disease is spread more easily,” Reinhart said.

Even with treatment, about 1 in 10 people who are diagnosed with a meningococcal disease will die from it, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Parents who are unsure of what vaccines their children need, should check with their family health care provider or the health department, Reinhart said.

Caregivers can also log on to myvaxindiana.in.gov, a state website that allows parents or guardians to view and print vaccine records. Children must be registered by a health care provider or the health department to access the information.

There were no changes made this year to the Indiana State Department of Health’s required schedule of school-age immunizations, said Shara Calhoun, public health nurse with the Jackson County Health Department.

The second meningitis vaccine for high school seniors was added last year, along with a hepatitis A vaccine in two doses for those entering kindergarten, she added.

Since the hepatitis A vaccine wasn’t required before last year, Calhoun said the health department is making an extra push for all students to get it now.

Hepatitis A is mainly a food-borne disease transmitted through unsafe food and water. Those who contract the disease suffer from severe vomiting, diarrhea and yellowing of the eyes and skin.

“But even worse is that it damages the liver,” Calhoun said.

Another immunization the health department is recommending is Gardasil, a three-dose vaccine for boys and girls against the human papilloma virus.

Gardasil is being called the anti-cancer vaccine, providing some protection against cervical and other types of cancer, along with genital warts caused by HPV, Calhoun said.

Families with children age 11 and older can request the vaccine, she added.

Calhoun said all needed vaccines are available at the health department.

Most people with health insurance typically have no cost for these immunizations, she said.

Parents can call their insurance companies to see if the cost of childhood immunizations is covered by their plan.

For families that do not have health insurance or have a plan that doesn’t cover vaccines, Calhoun said, there is a federal Vaccines for Children program available at no cost.

Calhoun advised parents to make immunization appointments now because the health department and other places that offer vaccines are getting busy.

The health department will offer evening hours for a Back to School Clinic on Aug. 3 and 4. Appointment times will fill up fast, so parents should call soon, she said.

“We haven’t done a lot yet, so we will be crazy busy until September, because there are a lot of kids out there that need them,” she said. “It is our goal to see every child up to date on their vaccines.”

To make an appointment for children to receive needed immunizations at the health department, call 812-522-6667.

Appointments also may be made at a doctor’s office and local pharmacies.

At a glance

Jackson County Health Department is scheduling appointments for school-age children to receive needed immunizations

The department will offer a Back To School Clinic with evening hours on Aug. 3 and 4.

Parents or guardians must call 812-522-6667 to make an appointment.

January Rutherford is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. She can be reached at jrutherford@tribtown.com or 812-523-7069.