With less than a month to go before the start of the new school year, many parents are preparing to pack their children's book bags with pencils, folders and notebooks.
Officials with the Webster County Health Department, though, are urging parents to also include vaccinations in their plans for sending their children back to class.
"We typically encourage parents to get their children's school booster shots when they enter pre-school, but they are required to have them for kindergarten," said Tricia Nichols, registered nurse and child health coordinator for Webster County Health.
While these initial school boosters, done when children are between 4 and 6 years old, are common knowledge, parents will sometimes forget the second set, she said. Between 11 and 13 years old, the seventh grade age range, children will need shots once again. This second set is relatively new requirement and includes vaccines for meningitis, tetanus, diphtheria, and a booster for pertussis, or whooping cough.
With recent concerns of immunizations possibly being linked to autism, some parents may question whether they should vaccinate their children; however, officials with the Center for Disease Control conducted a review of literature and research and found the common childhood vaccines given to be safe and serious adverse effects from them to be rare.
Still, Nichols said, officials know concerns linger.
"Some people just don't believe in vaccines, which is their right," she said, "But ultimately we have to look at the safety of their children and the safety of all children. We don't have the diseases we used to have because of vaccines."
It is uncommon to find local cases of mumps, measles, or whooping cough unless it is in unvaccinated individuals or the elderly who never received the now standard childhood shots, Nichols said.
If parents still refuse to get immunizations, they have to seek an exemption so their child can attend school, she said. They can claim they are asking to be exempt for medical reasons or for religious and personal beliefs. A doctor must sign the paperwork for medical conditions while a simple notary will suffice for those with beliefs against the shots.
"The main thing families need to understand is if they are choosing to not vaccinate their child and they seek an exemption, in the case of an outbreak their child cannot attend school - it's state law," Nichols said. "Unvaccinated children are at a higher risk for exposure and we want to keep their children safe. Often, they understand that and want them safe, as well."
Webster County Health offers appointments at their vaccination clinics to ensure children get the boosters they require, she said. If a family's insurance does not cover the cost of vaccinations the clinics can help, otherwise Nichols suggests families talk to their child's regular health provider. If they have questions or concerns they can also contact the Webster County Health Department.