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30 Aug

2016-17 School Rules Add Meningitis Vaccine

2016-17 School Rules Add Meningitis Vaccine

As you check off the classroom supplies and clothing your children need for school, remember to review their vaccination schedules, too.

The biggest change in state requirements this year affects incoming seventh- and 12th-graders, who must for the first time be inoculated against meningococcal disease.

Other vaccine requirements largely remain the same, though the state is phasing in rules dictating when children receive multiple inoculations against polio, to synchronize New York's schedule with the recommendations of a federal advisory board. Also being phased in is a requirement for children to receive a second dose of the varicella vaccine, which prevents chicken pox.

The requirement for seventh- and 12th-graders to be immunized against meningococcal disease follows the passage of a new state law last year. The Legislature added the vaccine to the mandated list at the urging of several patients' and doctors' groups, despite the opposition of the Autism Action Network and anti-vaccine advocate Robert F. Kennedy Jr.

Meningococcal disease is a severe bacterial infection of the bloodstream or the thin lining that covers the brain and spinal cord. (It is called meningitis when that thin lining is swollen.) Adolescents living in close quarters, such as college students in dormitories, are at increased risk of getting it. As much as 10 percent of the population may carry meningococcal bacteria without experiencing any symptoms, which means they can pass it on unknowingly.

Though uncommon, meningococcal disease is very serious and can be fatal. Patients who survive often suffer permanent disabilities like hearing loss and brain damage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Changes to the schedules for vaccines that prevent polio and chicken pox affect students entering kindergarten as well as first, second, sixth, seventh and eighth grades this year. Generally, those students must have received four doses of polio vaccine and two doses of the varicella vaccine.

The new schedules for polio and chicken pox vaccinations are a bit convoluted, however, so if you're not sure whether your children are on track, check with your pediatrician.

Another suggestion from Lou Snitkoff, chief medical officer for CapitalCare Medical Group, is to follow guidelines set by the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, which are published on the CDC website. Children may end up with more vaccinations than required in New York, or get them sooner, but they'll never be behind, he said. And it will keep them up to date with the recommendations of the country's foremost immunization experts.