Gazette opinion: The healthiest back-to-school shop

2014-07-28T00:00:00Z Gazette opinion: The healthiest back-to-school shop The Billings Gazette
July 28, 2014 12:00 am

Back to school ads are showing up daily in The Gazette, reminding families that summer vacation is entering its final weeks. Before shopping for backpacks and notebooks, parents need to be sure students are up to date on vaccinations.

If you have a student entering kindergarten, middle school or college this fall, the time to update vaccines in right now. Every year, many parents wait till the week before school starts to get their students vaccinated – and they have the longest waits at clinics.

Families may find that their regular pediatrician is already booked up with appointments in the busy few weeks before school.

There’s still opportunity to get students protected from preventable diseases. Even families who can’t get in to see their regular pediatrician may obtain vaccinations at RiverStone Health, 123 S. 27th.

Montana has had the dubious distinction of having the lowest childhood vaccination rate for 3-year-olds among the 50 states, according to Tamalee St. James, an infectious disease nurse specialist at RiverStone. Montana’s vaccination rate has improved, so we’re now running in the back of the pack, but not last.

Those tots who don’t get all the recommended vaccinations on the recommended schedule have some catching up to do before entering kindergarten. And when a child is missing more than one dose in a vaccine series, she can’t catch up all in one clinic visit. A catch-up schedule may take weeks.

College recommendations

College students are encouraged to get the meningococcal vaccine that prevents meningitis, a potentially fatal brain infection. Students living in dorm are particularly at risk for exposure to this contagious disease.

“Most colleges recommend it, some require it,” St. James said.

The meningococcal vaccine is recommended for students going into middle school at age 11 or 12, with a booster for college freshmen, she said. Middle-schoolers also usually need a tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis booster.

College students may also be required to have a tuberculosis test, hepatitis vaccinations and proof of having a tetanus vaccination within the past 10 years.

Catching up kids

Children who have been vaccinated on the schedule recommended by the Center for Disease Control’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, will need booster shots before entering kindergarten. Those boosters can be obtained all in one clinic visit.

However, children who haven’t been vaccinated on schedule may need multiple doses of the same vaccine.

“It’s a common thing,” St. James said. “A lot of people are kind of lax about that, especially if children don’t go into daycare. The requirements for daycare are stricter than for school.”

The good news is that RiverStone vaccination clinics require no appointment. Just walk in during clinic hours, which are detailed in the box above. If the child has no health insurance coverage for vaccines, the federal Vaccines for Children program will help cover the cost. If the family can’t afford to pay anything, RiverStone will provide needed childhood vaccines at no charge.

If you have a child or grandchild who may need immunization, don’t wait. Call your pediatrician today or walk into RiverStone this Monday, Wednesday or Friday. Avoid the last-week crowd and the extra paperwork for a child who lacks vaccinations when school starts.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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