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Parents of preteens: Make a date to vaccinate

New school immunization requirements imposed

ALBANY — As children grow older, protection provided by immunizations they received as infants fades. Preteens need booster shots, says Southwest Health District Immunization Coordinator Rebecca Snow.

“This is about more than just protecting them now against vaccine-preventable diseases,” Snow said. “It is also about protecting their health in the future.”

The Georgia Department of Public Health designated this week as Preteen Awareness Week to remind parents to talk to their preteens about the importance of getting immunized against vaccine-preventable diseases.

“Preteens are becoming increasingly social,” said Steven Mitchell, director for the Georgia Department of Public Health Immunization Office. “They go to overnight camps, attend parties and play team sports. They’re beginning to interact with a larger social circle.

“While these are all fun parts of being a teenager, they could also increase their risk for contracting potentially life-threatening diseases.

“Couple this with the new school immunization requirements and it’s the ideal time to make sure your preteen is up-to-date on their vaccinations and protected for their future,” Mitchell said.

Georgia Department of Public Health Rule (511-2-2) requires students born on or after Jan. 1, 2002 entering or transferring into 7th grade and any “new entrant” into grades 8-12 grades in Georgia to provide proof of an adolescent pertussis (whooping cough) booster vaccination (called “Tdap”) AND an adolescent meningococcal vaccination (MCV4). The law affects all public and private schools including, but not limited to charter schools, community schools, juvenile court schools and other alternative school settings (excluding homeschool).

Anyone who doubts the value of vaccines need only look at the uptick in dangerous vaccine-preventable illnesses, attributed to parents declining to immunize their children. Southwest Health District has been among the areas hit hard by a disease that had been greatly reduced in the United States.

“As many of you may know, our health district has been experiencing the state’s largest outbreak of pertussis, also known as whooping cough, which is a vaccine-preventable disease,” Snow said.

“Whooping cough, along with measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases have been making a comeback in the nation recently,” she said. “Please don’t risk the health of your child and others who may be at risk of severe complications if they catch one of these vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Some Georgia babies have died and others – including some in the Southwest District – have required lengthy intensive hospital care after contracting whooping cough, Snow said.

She noted that immunizations also reduce absences from school and from extracurricular activities. “Being up-to-date on vaccinations also decreases the spread of illness at home and in the community,” Snow said.

The CDC currently recommends the following vaccines for preteens and teens:

— Tetanus, Diphtheria and Pertussis (Tdap);

— Influenza (flu);

— Human Papillomavirus (HPV);

— Meningococcal Disease (MCV4).

To find out more about immunizations against vaccine-preventable diseases, contact your county health department or go online to www.southwestgeorgiapublichealth.org.