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Health officials urge families to get children up to date on immunizations before school starts

A student gets vaccinated against pertussis at a Los Angeles middle school in 2012. The state required that students be immunized to halt an epidemic of whooping cough.
Kevork Djansezian
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A student gets vaccinated against pertussis at a Los Angeles middle school in 2012. The state required that students be immunized to halt an epidemic of whooping cough.

Students across the Northwoods will return to the classroom starting next week.

Health officials are encouraging parents and guardians to help make the school year as healthy as possible for them by getting up to date on vaccinations.

Last year, nearly 90% of students met the minimum immunization requirements.

It was an increase of about 1% from the year prior, but still below pre-pandemic levels according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

“When we look at the children, if they've received the sort of expected series of vaccines by 24 months of age, we're seeing that level out. We have been seeing through the pandemic years that children were behind and some of those rates were lowering. We're seeing them sort of plateau out and we're hoping that they will come back up. That being said we still have some ground to gain to get back to pre-pandemic levels. But I think we're starting to turn the corner,” Dr. Stephanie Schauer, the Wisconsin immunization program manager.

The MMR vaccine has seen one of the biggest drops in Wisconsin. This is the one that protects against measles, mumps, and rubella.

The state’s seen about a 5-6% drop in children receiving a dose.

“Measles, unfortunately, is one of those that requires very high community immunity to prevent sort of widespread spread. I think we would like to see that one in particular, as well as all the others, come up a bit,” said Schauer.

Students in Wisconsin can have immunization requirements waived for religious, personal, or medical reasons.

Overall, about 5% of students had a waiver for one or more vaccines for last school year. That’s a 1.2 % increase from the previous year.

Schauer believes misinformation about vaccines is part of the reason why some children aren’t getting vaccinated.

She also believes lack of access plays a large role.

The Vaccine for Children Program can pay for vaccines for families that qualify.

“It's really an important piece that we want parents to know is that no child should go unvaccinated due to financial concerns. That if they don't have health insurance, they can't their child can receive all the needed vaccines through this program,” said Schauer.

In addition to require vaccines, there are also ones like flu and COVID vaccines that aren’t required but can go a long way in keeping kids healthy.

“We certainly go ahead and recommend that children receive all ACIP recommended vaccines. It's different than what is required for school. But for optimal health, we do talk about going to your health care provider and ensuring that you're getting the benefit of all vaccines that are recommended regardless of whether they're required for school,” said Schauer.

COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin have been rising slowly, but steadily since the end of June.

The seven-day average for new, reported cases is around 150.

Fall heading into Winter is typically when flu cases rise as well.

“In the next month or so, I think we'll expect to see the new monovalent vaccine against the sort of latest strain of COVID. When that comes in, it will be important if it's recommended for you to go ahead and receive that as well. As you know, for influenza, an annual influenza dose is recommended for everyone six months of age. I think vaccination is one critical part, said Schauer.

September and October are generally good times to get a flu shot.

Parents and caregivers can check the Wisconsin Immunization Registry or contact their regular doctor, community clinic, or local or tribal health department to find what vaccines their children may need.

New for the 2023-2024 school year is a change to the recommended age at which children should receive the Tdap vaccine to protect against tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis. It is now required at the start of seventh grade to better align with the recommended age (age 11) at which children should receive the vaccine.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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