National law pushes Iowa City officials to offer booster vaccines to students


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The Iowa City School District and the Johnson County Department of Public Health now offer pertussis vaccinations to sixth-graders in the district for free, following a change in a national regulation.

National outbreaks in pertussis pushed the American Society for Investigative Pathology to make a recommendation at the federal level for students entering seventh grade to receive a second dose of the tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis vaccine — also known as DTaP. Local public-health officials have taken on assisting these immunizations in order to speed up the vaccination process and to prevent inconveniencing district families.

“We thought the easier way was to actually go to the school rather than require families another trip to the doctor,” said Doug Beardsley, the director of the Johnson County Public Health Department. “We want to reduce barriers for this initial wave.”

The state of Iowa has adopted the federal regulation, effective on July 1. The Education Department aims to have vaccinated the necessary students by the end of April.

The vaccines are available for sixth- to 12th-graders at the area schools for those who haven’t received the Tdap booster.

The Public Health Department reports that an estimated 689 children will receive the vaccination, and 108 have been vaccinated, said Tricia Kitzmann, deputy director of the department.

The adoption of the law follows a rise in outbreaks of pertussis both statewide and nationally.

Johnson County reported fewer than 10 confirmed cases of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in 2011, but the county faced 120 confirmed cases in 2012.

“Nobody wants to give more shots,” Beardsley said. “But the best technology is intervention right now.”

Despite the need for immunizations, Susie Poulton, the director of health services for the School District, said initial clinics didn’t have much success, only administering roughly 35 vaccinations.

But she said this low turnout could be due to the number of students who have already received the vaccinations because of recommendations doctors may have given them.

“It’s been considered a best practice recommendation for the last four or five years, maybe even six or seven years,” Poulton said.

The School District continues to encourage parents to send in information if their children received the booster prior to the new law, and this information will help them potentially recognize which students are in need of the shot.

The district hopes the immunizations will benefit not only the school but the surrounding community as well.

“It definitely has affected attendance,” Poulton said. “It would be a wonderful thing to decrease the instances of pertussis and improve attendance during winter months, but also then prevent the spread of pertussis to our community.”

But Beardsley sees the immunization as more than a shot — it’s an essential part of living.

“Vaccination is the most effective way to prevent these childhood diseases,” he said. “Good nutrition, exercise, and getting your vaccinations — those are all a part of a healthy lifestyle.”

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