Health & Family

Students lacking shots warned of suspension

School and health officials across North Carolina are scrambling to get vaccines to thousands of sixth-graders who face suspension if their vaccination shots aren't up to date, state health officials said Friday.

Schools are sending letters and leaving phone messages warning parents their children must receive one booster dose of tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis, or Tdap. The information warns parents that their child can be suspended if immunizations aren't up to date within 30 days of starting school. The rules apply to about 210,000 students.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is tallying the number who still need their shots, Assistant Superintendent Barbara Pellin said Friday. The district and the Mecklenburg Health Department held clinics in elementary schools last spring to immunize fifth-graders who were moving up, and could do more school-based clinics this month if needed.

“We'll have to develop a plan for sure if we have a huge number,” Pellin said. “We may even do a blitz like we did in the spring.”

In many districts, the deadline is Sept. 23.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the booster after North Carolina saw an increase in pertussis, or whooping cough, said state Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Amy Caruso. The requirement took effect for the 2008-09 school year.

Some counties are offering free clinics for the shots. Children may also get the shot at their own doctor's office, though a fee may be charged.

Wake County Human Services is sponsoring a clinic this Saturday to get students in before the deadline. The county's health director, Gibbie Harris, said principals are concerned that parents either aren't paying attention to the requirement or are waiting until the last minute.

“We get the impression that there's still a substantial number of kids that haven't been vaccinated,” Harris said.

In Alamance County, health director Barry Bass said schools are doing a call-in radio show and making the school nurse available to answer questions.

In Buncombe County, the health department held free immunization clinics in August hoping to reach students and parents before the deadline.

Students without updated records 15 days before the deadline got a letter from their principals reinforcing the mandate, said school health services supervisor Nelle Gregory.

“Since that went out over the last couple of weeks, now we're getting a surge at the health department of providing the vaccines,” Gregory said. “Principals will be ready on Day 30 to exclude any students that don't have it.”

Staff writer Ann Doss Helms contributed.