Hundreds of kids missing vaccinations

Kids who don't meet requirements could be barred from schools starting Wednesday

Posted: Thursday, August 27, 2009

Hundreds of children in Juneau do not meet new state requirements for chickenpox immunization, but a district official said they will not be turned away on the first day of school.

Anchorage schools last week sent nearly 700 students home on their first day because they did not have the necessary immunizations, but the Juneau School District's Dave Newton said the district recognizes the importance of a good start of school for the kids.

"My direction is that, once a child is in the classroom I am not going to remove them on the first day of school," the student services director said.

Gastineau Elementary school nurse Janet Capito made hundreds of calls in the past few weeks telling parents they must update their children's vaccination records.

"I've made so many phone calls I'm kind of at wit's end," Capito said.

Classes for first through 12th grade start Monday, and kindergarten starts Sept. 3.

As of Wednesday, more than 50 students - greater than 20 percent - at Gastineau did not meet requirements, Capito said.

New state requirements for chickenpox immunization apply to children in kindergarten through sixth grade.

The chickenpox vaccination was added July 1 to the list of others required by the state: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

A booster chickenpox immunization is a part of the new requirements, meaning children must have two shots before they comply.

About 30 percent of sixth-graders at Dzantik'i Heeni Middle School were on Dorothy Gray's list Wednesday. The school nurse said she has called dozens of parents.

"I think they just let the summer get ahead of them in some cases, and they're trying to get it done," Gray said.

Gray expected some students to arrive Monday with proof of immunizations, and that some parents would send the paperwork in the next few days.

Procrastination led to a low supply of vaccine in town recently, Newton said.

Juneau Public Health Center is "jammed packed" with appointments and trying to add immunization clinics this week, nurse manager Kate Slotnick said.

Slotnick said the health center has enough of the vaccine.

Children who have had the chickenpox virus need a note from a doctor as proof they're now immune. Some parents do not have a family physician, or did not call a physician to report their child's illness when they came down with chickenpox, Capito said, making the paperwork more of a hassle.

Families may opt out of vaccinations for medical or religious reasons, but must show forms.

The Juneau School District started informing parents about the new requirements before school let out in the spring, spokeswoman Kristin Bartlett said. Letters were sent to families and the new requirements were publicized in back-to-school advertising and school newsletters.

Newton said the district would need a few days to sort through a deluge of last-minute paperwork, but kids who do not meet requirements could be barred from school beginning Wednesday.

"We're going to reassess this as we go along," Newton said. "We're trying to be realistic about this. Our preference is for people to be somewhat concerned. ...We want parents to feel a little pressure to get this done."

• Contact reporter Kim Marquis at 523-2279 or

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