Roll up your sleeve

Published 11:16 pm Friday, August 12, 2011

Sixth-graders need shots before school

Moving from elementary to middle school is an exciting — and anxious — time for students.

But along with new teachers, new rules and new classes, every rising sixth-grader has something else to be just a little bit nervous about.

State law requires all students entering the sixth grade to have a tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, or Tdap, booster shot prior to the first day of school.

Email newsletter signup

Heidi Kulberg, temporary acting health director of the Western Tidewater Health District, said the required immunization is the best way to prevent the spread of the diseases.

“Vaccines are so vitally important to public health because of their prevention of problems,” she said. “They can help prevent the disease in the first place and by preventing it, then we are not spreading it.”

All children should have received four doses of the Tdap vaccinations prior to entering the first grade, so the shot they will receive now is a booster to the original immunization.

Kulberg said health officials have noticed an increase in pertussis cases recently, which can be especially dangerous for newborns and infants, so the vaccination is especially important for students who have young siblings.

Parents can take their students to their doctor or the Health Department to receive the Tdap vaccination.

There is no charge for Tdap shots given at the Health Department.

In addition to the Tdap booster, Kulberg said, the state health department recommends all girls going into the sixth grade receive the human papillomavirus, or HPV, vaccination, which protects against a virus that is known to cause cervical cancer.

HPV is delivered in three shots that are given over the period of six months.

She said the vaccination is most effective before girls are sexually active, which is why the state recommends they get it before they enter middle school.

“By getting girls when they are 11 or 12, you’ve got a very good chance they haven’t been active yet,” Kulberg said.

She added that while the students are getting the required shots, it’s a great opportunity to make sure students are up to date with all other vaccinations.

“Making that transition into middle school is basically a time when all vaccines are checked to see if kids are up to date,” she said.

The Health Department also offers HPV and other vaccines free of charge to the students who qualify.

Kulberg said she urges parents to take their kids to get their shots sooner rather than later.

“It’s great for people to come out now,” she said. “It will get more busy as we get closer to school.”

The immunization office hours for the Suffolk office are 1 to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday.