Students in middle school across Virginia will see changes in vaccine requirements beginning in July.
“The experts decide the ages that are best to get immunized and it’s all based on research,” said Karen Gangitano, a public health nurse the Peninsula Virginia Department of Health.
In April of 2018, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices changed the required age for the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine from 10 to 11 year olds, according to a memo from VDH in April. The change will go into effect July 1.
Gangitano said the shift in age was to align with current guidelines. Previously, the vaccine was required for students entering sixth grade — but a lot of those students ended up still being 10 years old when they were about to go into sixth grade. Now, these regulations make it for seventh graders.
However, if a child has already received their TDaP vaccine for entry into the sixth grade, then they are not required to have another dose to enter the seventh grade, she said. Similarly, if a child did receive their vaccine at age 10, they won’t have to have an additional dose.
According to the memo, it might be best for a child to wait until age 11 to receive the vaccine. If a student is receiving other vaccines based on the vaccination schedule on ACIP recommendations then the student must be 11 to receive the vaccine. However, if a student needs a more express vaccine schedule to catch-up on any missed, the vaccine can be given as early as 7 years old.
“The parent should consult their health care provider about receiving a booster of TDaP when they turn 11 years old,” she said.
In nearly all cases if a student does not receive the vaccine, they will not be allowed to enter the seventh grade, Gangitano said. But, according to the memo, a student can become “conditionally enrolled” if they are under 11 when entering seventh grade and have had a dose of the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine, which is generally given to children under the age of 7.
Gangitano said there are two other exceptions as well, first being religious reasons and the second being medical reasons, such as a child being allergic to components of the vaccine. Gangitano said there are no exceptions for philosophical reasons.
The TDaP vaccine prevents against very serious diseases. First, it protects against tetanus, more commonly known as lockjaw, which causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness all over the body, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
It also protects against diphtheria which, while rare, can cause a thick coating to form at the back of the throat leading potentially to breathing problems, heart failure, paralysis and death.
Lastly, it prevents individuals from contracting pertussis, or whooping cough, which causes difficulty breathing, vomiting and interrupted sleep.
Gangitano said since the vaccine is mandatory by the state, insurance companies are required to provide coverage. If an individual does not have health insurance, the federally-funded program Vaccines for Children from the CDC provides vaccines free of cost to eligible children.
To learn more about vaccines in Virginia, visit the Virginia Department of Health online.