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School immunization requirements change: Mandated vaccines for starting middle school will now be required for seventh-grade students

Two vaccines that were formerly required for students starting middle school will now be required for seventh-grade students, according to Amy Schwartz, immunization surveillance coordinator for the North Dakota Department of Health.

“Middle school” means different grades in different communities, which meant that all students were not receiving the same vaccines at the same times.

“These changes were made to standardize immunization requirements,” Schwartz said. “We hope that requiring these vaccines for the seventh grade will be simpler for parents to remember.”

Students must receive the Tdap (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) and the MCV4 (meningococcal conjugate vaccine) vaccines when they begin the seventh grade, Schwartz said. These requirements are in addition to previously-required immunizations. Parents are urged to check with their child’s health care provider or local public health unit to make sure their immunizations are updated well before school starts this fall. A complete list of school immunization requirements and recommendations is available at nize/Schools-ChildCare/.

Valerie Fischer, director of Safe and Healthy Schools for the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said it was important for students to be current on their immunizations.

“Diseases spread quickly in classrooms, so making sure children are immunized is the best way to make sure they are healthy and ready to learn,” Fischer said.

The vaccines required for entry into the seventh grade protect children against diseases that are spread by bacteria. Because vaccines have made these diseases relatively rare, it’s easy to forget how serious they can be, the Health Department said.

The Tdap vaccination protects children against tetanus, a disease that causes muscle spasms and death; diphtheria, an infection that causes a sore throat, fever, swollen glands, muscle weakness and painful swallowing and can result in death; and pertussis, or whooping cough, which can cause uncontrollable, violent coughing and can result in death.

The MCV4 vaccination protects children against meningococcal meningitis, an inflammation of the lining around the brain and spinal cord that can cause hearing loss, brain damage and death.

“Currently in North Dakota, most children are immunized appropriately before starting school,” Schwartz said. “Those who are not properly immunized are more at risk for developing these preventable diseases.”

The middle school immunization rates for Tdap and meningococcal vaccines for the 2013-2014 school year were 72.4 percent and 69.8 percent respectively.

For more information, contact Amy Schwartz, North Dakota Department of Health, by calling (701) 328-2335.