BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – A new state requirement that mandates all students going into 7th and 12th grades this year have a certain level of meningococcal vaccination has about 30 families in the district scrambling for the vaccine.
According to Superintendent Erin Slater, about 25 to 30 students in the district were sent home this morning on arrival due to an Iowa law that prohibits them from being at school if their meningococcal vaccines are not documented.
“The students that are not in compliance in 7th and 12th grades for meningococcal shots are being picked up by parents and are excluded until they are in compliance,” Slater said this morning. “Between 12 and 15 at each school were sent home.”
Kaela Baker, a senior at FMHS, was one of the students sent home this morning by Assistant Principal Patrick Lamb.
“It was kind of weird,” she said “There were other seniors in the office, too, and I don’t know if they were sent home, but he told me I had to leave the building because I didn’t have the proper documentation.”
Baker said she has tried different options in the past several weeks, but she has a food intolerance and she can’t be injected with several of the vaccines available.
“We weren’t aware until a couple of days ago. We went to get the vaccine yesterday and we couldn’t get in so we had to wait until the next opening which is today at noon. So I’m hoping to get it today. But they said they had a limited supply and I have a reaction to one of the proteins, so if they don’t have the special one I need today, they won’t have it again for two weeks,” she said.
Baker’s mother, Nicole, said the Lee County Health Department had about 25 of the special type that her daughter can have so she sent her daughter over 30 minutes early to get in line and, hopefully, she will be back at school by 1 p.m. with proper documentation. If they don’t have the vaccine available she said they would have to try Burlington.
Nicole said the change came about quickly and the state was legislating out of fear.
“A year or two ago they had an outbreak and instead of doing some education about it, they just passed a law, and the first year it’s implemented there’s no grace period,” Nicole said.
“As a parent, I dropped the ball in listening to the alerts, but now the doctors are making us jump through a bunch of hoops, the health department didn’t receive enough communication, at least in respect to the school district knowing they had 80 kids or so without the vaccine, and didn’t notify the health department,” Nicole said.
Slater said multiple alerts were sent out to parents of the district’s PowerSchool alert system as well as the district’s website, many articles ran in local media, and information from the Lee County Health Department.
“We’re complying with the law and making sure the students are compliant and we’re working with parents to point them in the right directions,” Slater said.
“When we started doing some original checking to see what our compliance numbers were several weeks ago, we had a much higher number. I believe we had upwards of 70 to 80 students who needed vaccinations. I think our staff did an outstanding job addressing that and the final numbers we ended with today are significantly lower than two weeks ago.”
Slater said she thinks it’s combination of a complicated requirement, considering how it applies to each student, and an issue of families not reacting to the new requirements.
“I think it’s a combination of understanding what the law is saying and how it applies to each individual student. It can be complicated, unfortunately, we have to enforce it.”
LCHD director Julie Schilling said the health department only carries meningococcal vaccine for children and anyone coming to the immunization clinic must meet one of four criteria. If the student doesn’t meet one of the criteria, they must contact their health care provider.
The criteria are: 1. Must be enrolled in Iowa Medicaid; 2. Have no health insurance; 3. Be an American Indian or Alaskan native; or 4. Health insurance doesn’t provide coverage for vaccines.
“We have 35 doses and started our clinic at noon and it will run til 5:30. “We anticipate we will run out based on the number of calls we received. We’ve contacted the state about ordering more vaccines,” Schilling said this morning.
She said clinic staff will evaluate people coming in to see if they qualify under the four criteria, and if not, they will be asked to contact their private physicians.
The change requires a one-time dose of meningococcal (A, C, W, Y) vaccine received on or after 10 years of age for applicants in grades 7 and above, if born after September 15, 2004; and 2 doses of meningococcal (A, C, W, Y) vaccines for applicants in grade 12, if born after September 15, 1999; or 1 dose if received when applicants are 16 years of age or older.