HEPATITIS B VACCINATIONS: Thousands of Students May Miss School Start
A state law preventing seventh-grade students from entering school if they have not had or at least started their three-dose hepatitis B vaccine means that up to 145,000 students could be barred from entering school next month, the Los Angeles Times reports. In Orange County, "untold numbers" of seventh-graders could be sent home their first day of school. "Schools could have to turn away thousands of kids," said Sandy Landry, the health and wellness administrator for the county's Department of Education, "...[T]hat's a state law we have to comply with." For the Los Angeles Unified School District, the "situation appears a little less bleak." Because of a "vast immunization program ... over the last two years," only 5,000 of the district's 50,000 to 55,000 seventh-graders will attempt to begin school without the necessary shots. Those students will be "sequestered in homeroom or auditoriums on the first day and given consent forms to take home to their parents." Officials must prevent un-immunized students from even "set[ting] foot in a classroom." In practice, however, school administrators struggle to learn who has and has not been vaccinated, and many "are reluctant to keep students from their lessons." The situation is just as difficult for those administering the vaccinations. In Anaheim this week, nurses delivered 88 vaccines in an hour -- one every 41 seconds. Some parents expressed frustration at the long lines and short notice they were given about the vaccination policy, which did not formally go into effect until July. "Do they expect miracles?" asked Rick Palombo, a Costa Mesa radiologist and father of a sixth-grader.
The new law is intended to supplement an existing law mandating that all California kindergartners get hepatitis vaccinations before starting classes by "catch[ing] older children who missed earlier inoculations." All this to combat a liver disease "caused by a virus present in the blood" that, if untreated, can be fatal. "Hepatitis B causes a significant toll in California," said state immunization chief Natalie Smith, adding, "Most infections (occur) in adolescence and among young adults. We really want these kids to be protected" (Folmar/Gold, 8/27).