August is National Immunization Awareness Month, and the St. Mary’s health department is celebrating with a back-to-school vaccination clinic this Saturday.
“The goal of the back-to-school clinics are to keep our students in school and to keep our county healthy and free of vaccine-preventable diseases,” Jane Lawing, deputy director of the public health preparedness and response division at the St. Mary’s health department, said in an email.
She added that the health department partners with St. Mary’s public schools to provide vaccinations to children from birth to 18 years old, but recommends both children and adults see their primary care providers for routine vaccines and medical care.
Lawing said thousands of Americans become sick each year from diseases vaccines can prevent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “National Immunization Awareness Month helps to promote and educate communities on the importance of vaccines,” she added.
The deputy director said the department has been offering the clinic since 2007, and in 2018 they began going to public and non-public schools during May to offer required vaccines, with parental consent, to seventh-graders.
The clinic offers five vaccinations — MMR, Tdap, meningococcal, gardasil and varicella. MMR prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Tdap stops tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. Meningococcal fights meningitis, gardasil works against HPV or human papillomavirus and varicella prevents chickenpox.
All but gardasil, which also prevents certain types of cancers, are required for students enrolling in Maryland schools.
“Students who do not meet the minimum required Maryland vaccinations for school entry may be withheld from attending school until the requirement is met,” Lawing said.
Tammy Metcalf, the school system’s supervisor of health services, said school nurses work to ensure students are compliant with the state’s immunization guidelines that St. Mary’s public schools are required to follow.
“The parents and the nurses work very well together to get what is needed for compliance,” Metcalf said.
The health services supervisor said removing a student who does not meet the immunization guidelines is a last resort. “The No. 1 goal is to keep the students in school,” she added.
She does not have specific statistics, however, Metcalf said the public school students do an overall good job with receiving vaccinations.
The state reports the percent of kindergartners who were vaccinated during the 2018-2019 school year. St. Mary’s schools, public and private, did not receive a percentage below 85%. In fact, most schools received a 100% for each vaccination.
St. John’s School in Hollywood, however, did not receive a 100% score. Of the 27 kindergartners, 96% were vaccinated for Dtap, polio, MMR, hepatitis B and varicella at the Catholic school.
Park Hall Elementary also did not receive a 100%, but scored 99% in each vaccination category.
The private Starmaker Learning Center in Wildewood received the lowest percentage in the county. Out of the 13 kindergartners, 85% were vaccinated for Varicella, however, 100% of kindergartners were vaccinated for everything else.
Metcalf said vaccines “are all equally important” but there are vaccines specific to different age groups.
According to the health department’s website, vaccines can protect children from 14 serious diseases before they turn 2 years old. They recommend children from birth to age six be vaccinated for hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis), haemophilus influenza type B, pneumococcal disease, inactivated polio vaccine, influenza, MMR and chickenpox.
For school-age children, preteens and teens, the health department suggests an annual flu vaccine, HPV, meningococcal conjugate for meningitis, Tdap for tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis and serogroup B meningococcal.
Adults are also recommended to receive an annual flu shot along with a Tdap vaccination, if it was not received as a teenager, Td for tetanus and diphtheria, shingles, pneumococcal for 65-year-olds and older and hepatitis A, B and HPV depending on age, job, medical conditions and vaccination history.