The Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) reminds parents that it is not too early to start thinking about back-to-school immunizations.
Parents need to be aware that the immunization requirements in Montana have been changed.
During the 2015 Legislative session, Governor Bullock signed into law House Bill 158 that added two more vaccines a student needs for school attendance. The law is effective October 1, 2015.
For the coming school year, students will need to be vaccinated against varicella disease, more commonly known as chickenpox. All students in kindergarten through 12th grade will need to have two doses of varicella vaccine. Students attending a preschool or prekindergarten will need one dose of varicella. If a student has already had a case of chickenpox, documentation from a physician can be accepted in lieu of the vaccine. Additionally, students who already had two doses of the vaccine do not need to repeat it.
According to DPHHS officials, many students may already be current on their immunizations. “National surveys show that many students are already in compliance with the new law,” said Jim Murphy, chief of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau. “Parents may just need to check their child’s immunization status and provide an update to the school.”
Students in 7th -12th grades will also be required to have one dose of pertussis (whooping cough) containing vaccine. In previous years, only a Td, or tetanus/diphtheria, shot was required. The new law adds the pertussis component.
As long as a student has received at least one vaccine in the required series, that student may qualify for a conditional attendance as allowed by current regulations. A conditional attendance provision allows the student to stay in school while they finish the required shots.
The changes to the law were made to bring Montana’s immunization requirements more in line with the most current immunization recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). Of note, Montana was the only state that did not require the varicella series and one of five not requiring a pertussis booster at middle school for attendance.
Additionally, the new requirements are intended to reduce the incidence of diseases like chickenpox and whooping cough both in school settings and in the community. Montana’s rates for both of these diseases are typically higher than any other state in the region.
DPHHS encourages parents to talk to their family physician or local health department should they have questions about whether or not their child has the necessary shots for school.