Student immunizations changing soon in Rhode Island

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — More Rhode Island school children will soon have to brave the prick of a needle. Eyewitness News has learned several immunizations that were recommended for many years will soon be required.

“We’re telling you to do what we would do for our own children and my kids are the first one in line to get the flu vaccine—same with these other vaccines,” said Dr. James McDonald with the Rhode Island Department of Health.

Back in July, the state health department issued changes to the immunizations requirements for students, preschool through college-aged. Among the changing requirements effective August 2015, an annual flu shot for young children attending preschool and daycare.

“Think of it this way, the flu vaccine changes every year because the flu changes every year,” said Dr. McDonald of the new requirement.

Another change to the immunization requirement – three doses of the human papillomavirus or HPV vaccine for both males and females beginning in seventh grade.

“Boys carry the virus and the way you stop the spread of it is by giving the vaccine,” Dr. McDonald said.

For college-bound students, the meningitis vaccine and booster is now mandatory.

“This is one that you’re going to want to sign your kids up for,” Dr. McDonald said about the meningitis vaccine. “It’s cheaper than a college book, covered by almost every insurance and really does a nice job of preventing a very serious and life threatening disease.”

Health officials tell Eyewitness News the changing requirements are the result of lots of departmental research and the best science available.

Dr. McDonald says parents still have plenty of time before the August 2015 deadline to decide whether the vaccine is right for their children.

“Some parents are going to have really good questions and they’re going to need time to think this through a little bit and this gives folks time to get the information they need and read about it.”

According to Rhode Island state law, parents can exempt their children from the required school immunizations for religious or pre-existing medical reasons. However, school nurses like Donna Lennon say exempting your child from the immunizations can have its consequences.

“Students that are exempt from having immunizations are excluded from school if we do have an outbreak of a disease,” said Lennon for the Rhode Island Certified School Nurse Teachers Association. “We try to educate parents around that, that your child will not have access to learning here at school.”

Eyewitness News has learned there are also programs available to help you comply with the changing immunizations even if you have trouble paying for them. Health officials say the state can give immunizations for free at neighborhood health clinics through the federally funded “Vaccines for Children” program.

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