Although it's still mid-summer, the first day of school is not far off. In addition to choosing a backpack in which to carry their new pencils and notebooks, some Carroll County students also have to get additional immunizations before they can start school on Aug. 25.
Maryland is requiring all students entering kindergarten and seventh grade to receive additional vaccines before starting the 2014-2015 school year.
All children in kindergarten through 12th grade must be vaccinated against tetanus, diphtheria, poliomyelitis, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox), meningitis and pertussis (whooping cough).
The new requirements include one dose of varicella vaccine, which, combined with the previous requirement, means kindergarten students will have a total of two varicella vaccines upon starting kindergarten.
Students entering the seventh grade must show proof of two immunizations: one dose of Tdap (vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis) and one dose of a meningitis vaccine.
Students who do not have the required immunizations on the first day of school will be contacted by a school nurse who will work with the family to ensure necessary steps are taken, according to Filipa Gomes, supervisor of Health Services for Carroll County Public Schools.
Gomes said the student must show proof of having a doctor's appointment to receive the necessary immunizations within 20 days of the first day of school in order to remain in school.
Health Department officials said that it's important for each child to receive necessary vaccines to protect the health of the entire student body.
Public health preparedness and response coordinator at the Carroll County Health Department, Maggie Kunz, said germs tend to spread easily in schools.
"Just like the common cold, more serious diseases can spread easily in large groups of kids," Kunz said. "Requiring kids to be vaccinated helps prevent these serious diseases, like measles and pertussis, from spreading and making some kids very sick."
According to Carroll County Public Schools projected enrollments for the upcoming school year, 1,613 students will attend kindergarten and 2,067 students will attend seventh grade this year.
Penny Bramlett, program supervisor for Maternal Child Health Programs at the Carroll County Health Department, said that all public school and private school students are required to follow the state's immunizations schedule.
"There is a great misconception that private school children are exempt from state laws, but in fact they have to follow same laws as public school students," Bramlett said.
Maryland law does allow for limited exemptions from the required vaccines for medical and religious reasons.
Gomes said she is unsure how many students currently in the Carroll County Public School system are exempt from immunizations due to medical or religious reasons.
According to Kunz, vaccination requirements are based on recommendations from the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Maryland, vaccine requirements for school children are determined by the legislature.
Adults working in the schools — administrators, teachers and volunteers — are encouraged to be up to date on vaccinations, but are not required to do so, Gomes said.
County offers free shots in August
The Carroll County Health Department will host several free vaccination clinics in August to help families get the required immunizations in time for the start of the school year.
Available to all county residents, the clinics will only offer vaccines for the new requirements for children going into kindergarten and seventh grade. The Health Department can help families get other required vaccines for children and adults on a sliding scale fee.
Bramlett noted that the vaccines can also be administered by a family's primary care doctor.
Gomes encouraged parents to speak to their health care providers if they are concerned about vaccines.
"Sometimes, parents feel anxious about vaccines, and when they talk to their health care provider, they are reassured that it's safe," Gomes said.
The following free clinics are offered by the Carroll County Health Department:
• Saturday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at Century High School, 355 Ronsdale Road in Sykesville
• Saturday, Aug. 2, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., at North Carroll Middle School, 2401 Hanover Pike in Hampstead
• Wednesday, Aug. 27, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Carroll County Health Department, 290 S. Center St. in Westminster.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun