Students who have not been immunized against chicken pox could find themselves excluded from going to school, if the LaGrange County Health Department determines there is an outbreak in the district.
With a neighboring school district already having to exclude students due to an outbreak there, it is likely that an outbreak could happen at Westview. And the district wants parents to know the consequences if students aren’t immunized.
At Thursday’s school board meeting, Westview Superintendent Randy Zimmerly told the board that the LaGrange County Health Department has already informed the district that the school corporation would have to exclude any student or staff who has not had chicken pox or has not been immunized. “There is a significant number of students not immunized,” Zimmerly said. “We are very concerned about this. Exclusion is for 21 days after the last documented case.” Zimmerly pointed out that that could lead students to missing up to 60 days of school – one-third of the school year.
“They are going to enforce the law in our county if we have an outbreak,” Zimmerly emphasized.
In response, the district is sending letters to parents of student that have not had full immunization for chicken pox, making them aware of the consequences as well as announcing a free immunization clinic. The clinic will be held at all Westview schools Tuesday and Wednesday, Dec. 20 and 21, the letter said. A permission form for the immunization clinic was also sent home to parents. The LaGrange County Health Department is also offering an additional clinic on Thursday, Dec. 29. Parents are asked to call the health department at 499-4182 ext. 228 to schedule an appointment.
“That’s about all we can do,” Zimmerly told the board. “We can make them aware of the consequences and if there is an outbreak, allow them to make the choice.”
To be fully immunized, students must have both doses of the vaccination.
Zimmerly told the board that the county health department has been “very helpful. But very clear that exclusion will be expected and enforced if they declare an outbreak.”
LaGrange County Health Officer Dr. Tony Pechin noted that since the introduction of the vaccine in 1995, the number of chicken pox cases has decreased. Prior to the vaccination, there were four million cases of chicken pox in the U.S. annually, Pechin said. Of those, 12,000 required hospitalization and 145 resulted in death. Since vaccination, the mortality rate in children ages 1-4 due to chicken pox has declined by 66 percent, according to Pechin.
“It is a remarkably safe vaccine,” Pechin added. Still, parents have been hesitant to get children vaccinated. “If you understand the science and care for your child, you get the vaccine,” Pechin stated. But if they don’t believe the science, they don’t, he noted. Pechin added he felt it was foolish for parents not to get their children vaccinated for chicken pox.
According to the county health department, the chicken pox vaccine is normally given at 12 months of age and a second dose between age 4-6 when a child receives their Kindergarten vaccinations. Current school requirements are two doses for grades K-2 and 6-12. Children in grades 3-5 are currently required to have one dose, with the second dose required when they enter 6th grade.