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Back-to-school activities include vaccinations

As hard as it might be to believe, a new school year is only a few weeks away.

That means, of course, that parents will hit the back-to-school sales for new clothes, supplies and other items their children need for the new year.

But one part of the back-to-school routine that often gets pushed off or overlooked is ensuring students are up to date on required vaccinations. Every year, it seems, that slips the mind of many parents and there is a last-minute rush to beat the school bell.

Officials with the Dougherty County Health Department have announced an opportunity later this month for parents to avoid that crunch time. From 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. July 23, the department will be operating its Saturday Back-to-School Vaccination Clinic.

"We know it's hard sometimes for single parents or working parents to make arrangements during the regular work week, so we are having a weekend clinic to make it more convenient," Suzzette Profit, immunization coordinator for the Dougherty County Health Department, said this week.

According to local health officials, the required vaccines protect children against diphtheria, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, Hib, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, varicella (chickenpox) polio and pneumococcal disease.

"Your child must be up-to-date on immunizations to enter or attend school or day care," Profit said. "Vaccines help keep our children well, and having them vaccinated is the law in Georgia."

In 2007, the state made some changes to the law. Children under 5 years who attend childcare facilities, Head Start or pre-kindergarten have to receive the pneumococcal vaccine and hepatitis A vaccine, or provide serologic proof of immunity. Children entering kindergarten, the sixth grade and new entrants into any grade have to receive a second dose of mumps vaccine or provide serologic proof of immunity, and have a second dose of varicella vaccine or provide proof of serologic immunity or healthcare provider documentation of disease history.

"These are vaccine-preventable diseases," Profit said. "They are still out there. While most people who are exposed develop mild illnesses, that isn't always the case. These diseases can be life-threatening."

There is also help for parents who are cash strapped. Georgia provides state-subsidized vaccines for Medicaid and PeachCare patients, uninsured children and others at a minimal fee, Profit said.

You can learn more about the vaccines and the upcoming clinic by contacting the Dougherty County Health Department or by visit the Southwest Health District's website, www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org. But whether you decide to utilize the health department or your family doctor, be sure to get this done. Childhood's risky enough without taking unnecessary chances with health.