Fort Wayne – A new state regulation will require students of all ages who are entering school this fall to have had two doses of chickenpox (varicella) vaccine or show proof of having had the disease.
The requirement was issued by the Indiana State Department of Health after multiple outbreaks of chickenpox were reported across the state last year.
Students from kindergarten through fifth grade will need to have their history of chickenpox disease documented by a health care provider, while verification of older students may be done by their parents.
“The newest part of the recommendation is now everyone will be required to have the two shots, and this will capture the third- to fifth-graders that have not had two shots,” said Dr. Deb McMahan, health commissioner at the Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department.
“According to the school nurses, there are not many who have not had both shots already,” she said.
“The varicella vaccine is very effective,” McMahan said. “It prevents about 4 million cases of chickenpox a year.”
Allen County has seen an increase in chickenpox in the last few years, but no major outbreaks as in other parts of the state, she said.
“Locally, we’ve seen it go from four or five cases a year to 12 or more,” McMahan said.
Some parents who think it’s better for their children to get the disease and build up a natural immunity may not be aware of the serious complications caused by chickenpox, McMahan said.
Children, pregnant women or those with compromised immune systems can suffer the most severe complications, she said.
Those can include pneumonia, ear infections, inflammation of the brain such as meningitis or encephalitis, skin infections and sepsis or blood poisoning, she said.
The number of families visiting the health department and shot clinics has fallen in recent years, and McMahan predicts there will be another decrease next year when insurance companies are mandated to cover immunization costs under the Affordable Care Act.
Super Shot has 10 immunization clinics in Allen County. Those sites have been swamped lately with families preparing their children for school, said Kelly Zachrich, executive director of the Super Shot program.
“We are very pleased, and we are hopping,” Zachrich said. “We were supposed to close our Carew location at 1 p.m. Tuesday and that was not possible; we had 80 people signed up for vaccines.”
The program gave 6,969 children about 26,700 vaccines last year, Zachrich said.
Although Super Shot immunizations were free for about 20 years, new state restrictions last year forced the program to serve a more limited clientele, Zachrich said.
Like the Health Department, Super Shot charges a registration fee of $9 plus the wholesale cost of the vaccine – well below what a family would pay a physician or private clinic, Zachrich said.
“However,” Zachrich said, “for those who meet eligibility requirements, no one is turned away because of inability to pay.”
Those who do not meet the requirements are referred to the Department of Health, she said.
Zachrich has seen a jump in the number of families who are unable to pay for the immunizations, which can cost $500 or more just to meet back-to-school requirements.
“That number used to hover around 5 to 10 percent,” she said. “But the first quarter of this year it was 17 percent.”
The state also recommends students receive the following in addition to required immunizations:
•Two doses of hepatitis A vaccine
•Flu vaccine every year
•HPV or human papilloma virus vaccine, three-dose series for all adolescents
•Meningitis booster for those ages 16 to 18
The Fort Wayne-Allen County Health Department administered 7,663 vaccines in 2012, which included 410 hepatitis A, 6,000 influenza, 327 HPV, 190 meningitis and 77 chickenpox vaccines, McMahan said.