School Exclusion Day is Feb. 21, and kids missing state-mandated vaccines must stay home

INTERNET PHOTO - Vaccines can be administered at primary care facilities, pharmacies or the Crook County Health Department.

Get your kids their required vaccines, or they will have to stay home from school.

This is the message that local health officials recently delivered to the parents of 139 Crook County public school students.

School Exclusion Day once again takes place this month on Feb. 21, a line-in-the-sand day where children must be up-to-date on state-mandated vaccines. If they are not, they cannot return to school without some type of pre-arranged exemption.

Although the deadline is less than two weeks away, parents have received frequent reminders throughout the school year about which vaccines their child is missing.

"The schools started writing letters in December, sending them out to the kids, letting them know that if they weren't caught up by this time of the year they would be getting a letter from the state or local health officials," said Katie Simpson, Crook County Health Department's Clinical Supervisor. "The schools are actually the ones that run the reports, and then they turn them into us and we assess them for accuracy. Then we send out letters if we need to."

Karen Yeargain, the Health Department's communicable disease coordinator, said the letters will only make parents aware of which vaccines the child must get in order to return to school. It does not mention other routine vaccines that may be recommended for the general health and protection of the child.

Vaccines required by the state include DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis), polio, varicella (chicken pox), MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) and hepatitis A and B.

Yeargain said that School Exclusion Day is essentially the culmination of multiple efforts to make sure kids are up to date, and to engage those parents who have failed to respond up to that point.

Simpson did point out that parents can exempt their children from specific vaccines, either because of medical issues or for a non-medical reason, such as a religious belief. However, the process for obtaining an exemption is not a fast one, as it requires parents to view vaccination education modules and obtain a certificate to return to the school, so most exemptions are typically arranged long before School Exclusion Day nears.

Yeargain said that most local primary care physicians or pharmacies can administer vaccines and so can the health department, but due to potential age restrictions or limitations on available vaccines, she recommends parents call ahead.

Whoever gives the vaccine will provide the parent with an updated record of the child's vaccination records, which must be returned to the school before the student can go back to class.

Although holding kids out of school is not a desirable option, Yeargain points out that sending students to school who are not protected from potentially deadly illnesses could be worse.

"These diseases these vaccines prevent against are very contagious and can have some pretty serious consequences," she said. "Sending our kids to public schools, we want them to be as safe as possible."

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