Kerry Fehr-Snyder:The Arizona Republic http://www.azcentral.com:80/news/education/0814backtoschool.html
Thousands of Arizona children are showing up for the new
school year without all of the standard vaccinations against childhood diseases. The
problem is so severe, and school officials are so frustrated, that at least one school is
threatening to separate unvaccinated children from the others.
"We don't know what to do any more," said Chris
Martinez, school secretary at W.R. Sullivan Elementary School in Phoenix. "Without
those shots, they can't be around other kids."
Because of the fear of contagion, the school may segregate
the unvaccinated children in the cafeteria or library on the first day of school if their
parents can't come pick them up. State law prohibits them from attending classes until
they can show proof of immunization.
It is unclear how many Arizona children go to school without
the required vaccinations against childhood diseases, including polio, measles, mumps and
It is up to each school to ensure that their students have
received the shots, but it's a challenge.
At W.R. Sullivan, for example, school officials have sent
several letters to parents this summer, reminding them "No shots, no school." Of
the 80 seventh-graders who were sent notices, only three came in to update their
"We used to call parents to remind them, but that's
just too much," said Martinez, who has been helping the school nurse get the word out
For decades, state law has required school children to
provide proof of inoculations. But not every parent remembers the vaccination schedule, or
is aware of the free clinics the county holds. Some parents shun immunizations as too
risky for their children. Add to this is a nationwide vaccine shortage of tetanus and
diphtheria booster shots, and thousands of Arizona children are returning to school this
month without their shots.
In Maricopa County, schools and licensed day-care centers
require children to be vaccinated against 12 diseases, including hepatitis A because of an
outbreak several years ago. Children in other parts of the state must be vaccinated
against 11 diseases.
This year, the Arizona Department of Health Services is
making a temporary exception for children 7 and older who are due for their tetanus and
diphtheria boosters. Students will be required to show proof of both vaccines once the
shots are more widely available. The deferral does not apply to children entering school
or day care at younger ages.
Even though a tetanus booster is not required at Arizona
State University, Tempe parent Chris Moss is concerned because her 18-year-old son, Graham
Berry, is overdue for one.
On Wednesday, he moves into dorms where the university
requires that incoming freshmen only show proof of two sets of measles, mumps and rubella
But Moss, spokeswoman for Tempe St. Luke's Hospital, said
she is worried that her son is susceptible to tetanus, also known as lockjaw.
Nadine Zimmermann, a Glendale mother, believes vaccines are
risky. Zimmermann said she doesn't believe in vaccinating her two young sons against such
diseases as polio, hepatitis B and some strains of the flu. "I think if
they're around healthy kids and not growing up in filth and poverty, their bodies are
strong enough to fight it," Zimmermann said. Besides, she said, contracting
chicken pox, mumps and measles are rites of passage. "When you and I were kids,
everyone got chicken pox," she said.
But health officials insist that is outdated thinking,
sparked in part by misinformation circulated on the Internet and through other
sources. "We do hear that rite-of-passage argument," said Dr. Larry
Pickering, editor of a health-advisory journal, The Red Book, published by the American
Academy of Pediatrics.
"But I tell people, 'How would you like to have 600
clear lesions all over your body, have to stay out of the sun, have your eyes hurt in the
light, be at risk for pneumonia, encephalitis, kidney problems and stay home for two
weeks?' " he said.
"Or, would you rather have a shot?"
Before the chickenpox, or varicella, vaccine was developed
in 1995, about 4 million children developed the disease. That's about 90 to 95 percent of
Some parents resist vaccinating their children because of a
purported link between immunizations for the measles, mumps and rubella (also known as
German measles) and autism.
Generally, students entering kindergarten, first grade, and
junior and senior high school are due for booster shots, according to the schedule of
required childhood immunizations. "I'd be flipping out if he got a cut from a rusty
nail," Moss said. "Tetanus
is a hideous, horrible death." But three prestigious research groups, including
the American Academy of Pediatrics, have shown that there is no causal relationship.
Pickering advises parents to request the recommended immunization schedule for children
from birth to 18 and stick to it. The schedule is complex but is being simplified for next
He also suggests that parents obtain vaccine information
statements from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta so they can
learn about risks and reactions from each vaccine. They also should make sure their child
is getting the appropriate immunization before and during each doctor's visit, Pickering
said, because 5 to 10 percent of all children are overimmunized.