April 22, 2009
Varicella is a contagious disease that usually occurs in childhood. Although many people think that it is not a serious illness, varicella can lead to severe skin infections, scars, pneumonia, brain damage and death. Serious disease complications are much more likely to occur in infants less than one year of age (too young to be vaccinated) and in unvaccinated children and adults who are older than twelve. It is not possible to predict who will develop serious or even deadly complications from varicella infection. Persons who previously were completely healthy have been known to die as a result of this disease.
A single varicella vaccination is estimated to be effective for only 80 percent-85 percent of children. This means that some persons who have received only one vaccination may remain unprotected. Approximately one-third of these vaccinated-but-unprotected children will experience moderate disease if they get chickenpox. A second varicella vaccination greatly reduces the risk of disease among these unprotected children and has been shown to be 100 percent effective against development of severe disease.
To ensure children are protected against this disease, beginning July 1, 2009 verification that a child has already had varicella (or any other vaccine-preventable disease) will require confirmation by an Alaska-licensed physician (MD or DO), advanced nurse practitioner (ANP), or physician's assistant (PA). These medical professionals must document this verification on an official state form that may be obtained from schools, healthcare providers, or the Alaska Immunization Program website www.epi.alaska.gov/immunize . Documentation of history of varicella disease, signed by an Alaska-licensed MD, DO, ANP, or PA and dated prior to July 1, 2009, will continue to be considered valid.
Children who have had varicella disease may still receive the vaccine. Unvaccinated children without an exemption will be excluded from attending school and school activities.
Reactions to varicella vaccination are uncommon and are usually limited to soreness and/or redness at the site of vaccination. The stronger, naturally circulating virus is more likely to re-emerge in adulthood as shingles than is the weakened virus used in the vaccine
Also beginning July 1, 2009, school immunization regulations require that students who need a 10 year Td (tetanus/diphtheria) booster, typically at age 14-16, receive Tdap vaccine (tetanus/diphtheria/acellular pertussis). Outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough, are occurring in Alaska communities. This disease can be devastating to infants.
A special drop-in vaccine clinic will be held at the Ketchikan Public Health Center, May 6th, between 8 AM and 6 PM. Public Health Nurses will be offering the varicella vaccine, kindergarten vaccines (Dtap, MMR, Polio), Tdap's to 8th grade students or any student needing a tetanus vaccine, and all other childhood vaccines.
More information regarding the updated immunization requirements may be obtained at the Ketchikan Public Health Center, 225-4350, or by calling the Alaska Immunization Helpline 269-8088 in Anchorage or 888-430-4321 statewide.
Don't wait - vaccinate!
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