Health officials remind parents of Back to School immunizations new requirements in Illinois for students entering grades six and nine

Staff Writer
Aledo Times Record

The Illinois Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics (ICAAP) and the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition (IMCHC) urge parents to visit a pediatrician now to ensure their child's immunizations are up-to-date before heading back to the classroom later this month.

This school year, Illinois students entering sixth and ninth grades will also be required to provide proof of a Tdap vaccination along with the standard school physical forms required for these grades. The Tdap is a booster shot that protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough.

The new Tdap immunization requirement comes on the heels of an increase in whooping cough cases across the country over the last three years. In Illinois, there have been 1,048 cases reported through July 21, 2012, compared to 435 reported cases during the same time period in 2011. According to the CDC, Illinois ranks fifth among all states in terms of the number of pertussis cases reported this year.

"We've made tremendous strides over the last several decades in reducing the number of preventable deaths through the widespread use of vaccines," said Dr. Kay Saving, president, American Academy of Pediatrics-Illinois Chapter. "But the recent increase in whooping cough cases proves that parents can't let their guard down when it comes to their child's immunization schedules. Back to school also means back to the doctor to ensure your entire family remains healthy and protected."  

Health officials recommend immunizations start well before a child reaches school age, as the majority of immunizations are recommended to begin as early as infancy. However, it is never too late to get up to date with vaccines, and health care providers will work with parents to make sure that children are adequately protected and school-ready.

School physicals, health check-ups, and sports or camp physicals can also be a good opportunity for children to receive the recommended adolescent vaccines for pertussis, meningococcal, HPV and influenza.

"Having children vaccinated is a critical public health issue as it impacts not only them, but also the entire population," said Lisa Kritz, associate director, Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition. "Vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, whooping cough and meningitis result in doctor visits, hospitalizations, ongoing health issues and even premature deaths. But, these diseases are easily prevented by staying current with your child's immunizations."

Kritz added that back to school season is also an ideal time for parents to be sure their own immunizations are up to date. ICAAP and IMCHC encourage families to identify a primary care physician or nearby health center where they can seek year-round preventive care and routine health advice and treatment that goes beyond immunization services.

For uninsured and underinsured patients, many providers participate in the federal Vaccines for Children (VFC) program, which provides vaccines at no cost to doctors who serve Medicaid-eligible children younger than 19 years of age.

Parents and guardians should contact their child's school or county health department for the most up-to-date immunization and health exam requirements. For questions about back-to-school vaccinations, check with your health care provider or call your county health department.