Health Department proposes vaccination requirement

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(Host) Vermont’s Health Department wants to require that children are vaccinated against several common childhood diseases.

The state says the proposed rules would help to prevent the spread of those diseases in schools.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) "A lot of parents might be puzzled by the Health Department’s proposal."

Pediatricians already recommend that children get vaccinations against chickenpox, whooping cough, meningitis and other diseases.

And state Epidemiologist Doctor Cort Lohff says most families follow those guidelines.

(Lohff) "We’d expect that most students, especially students in kindergarten through 12th grade would have had most of these vaccinations already."

(Sneyd) But requiring the vaccines would ensure that children are immunized unless their parents have a legitimate religious or social objection.

Doctor Bill Raszka is the director of the pediatric infectious disease service at Fletcher Allen Health Care and he occasionally lectures for Merck, which manufactures vaccines.

He says Vermont has especially lagged behind in immunizing children against chickenpox with a vaccine known as varicella.

(Raszka) "If you look nationwide at immunization compliance rates in states that have a school requirement versus those that do not, those that have a school or day care requirement have much higher varicella immunization rates than those that do not."

(Sneyd) Raszka says there are a number of parents in Vermont who don’t like their children to get vaccines, especially for chickenpox.

Those parents prefer that their children build a natural immunity by contracting the disease at an early age.

But Raszka supports the Health Department’s proposal because there’s a growing likelihood that a child might not come down with chickenpox as a youngster.

(Raszka) "The problem with that philosophy right now is that there’s much less natural disease in the community because of this vaccination program."

(Sneyd) The Health Department’s proposal calls for all students to get two doses of the chickenpox vaccine.

Also, students in grades seven through 12 would need a booster shot of a new vaccine against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough.

And college students who’ll be living in dorms would need to be vaccinated against meningitis.

If adopted, the rules would go into effect next fall.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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