Since a new Montana vaccination law went into effect Oct. 1, the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department administered 17 chicken pox and 12 other vaccines that encompass tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.
Those vaccinations “brought kids in compliance with the law,” said Tina Randall, community health division director.
County-wide, 80 students were immunized for chicken pox, also known as the varicella vaccine, said Karen Maloughney, Butte-Silver Bow County public health nurse.
By Montana law, students must have two doses of the chicken pox vaccination by kindergarten. Those doses cover them for life.
However, the law allows wiggle room for older students, said Dot Warner, Butte school district nurse responsible for three elementary schools on Friday.
After students older than kindergarten but younger than 13 get their first dose, they have three months before they are required to get their second dose.
Students older than age 13 have only 30 days to get their second dose. So by November or December, all older students must receive their second vaccination to be in compliance with the law.
“Those students are in school conditionally, and the school nurses are tracking that,” said Warner. Data-oriented, user-friendly software helps make their jobs easier, she added.
“A conditional attendance” means that parents or guardians agree to follow the recommended schedule and will have their children immunized on the scheduled dates — or else risk the student being excluded from school, said Maloughney.
All in all, top-notch collaboration among the schools, health department and parents has kept the new immunizations low, said Warner.
For example, Warner had only three elementary students in her three schools that required vaccinations when the Butte-Silver Bow Health Department held its recent vaccination clinic.
“We didn’t have any significant issues,” she said. “Because we are a small community and we work together. We had one (sick) child who got an exemption.”
Exemptions work this way:
Parents can sign a medical exemption form that requires a doctor’s instruction for any length of time if a student has a medical issue not compatible with immunizations.
Also, parents can sign a religious exemption form requiring the honor system and asking that their child be excluded from any vaccinations.
“We can’t determine that they’re being completely honest,” said Warner. “If we ever get to a point where there’s an outbreak, we may be directed by the state Department of Health that the (student) stays home. But in my 24 years of nursing, we have not had to ask anyone to do that.
“To my knowledge, we don’t have anyone (else) who chose to get an exemption. But if they did, they took a religious exemption, and that puts them in compliance.”
Districts do not ask a family’s religion on the form.
The health department does not track whether a child’s immunizations are up to date or whether parents are following the new law requirements, said Randall.
“If parents want to opt out, then we can help them,” Randall added. “Since the new law went into effect, we haven’t had any parents asking for an exemption or opting out. But that doesn’t mean they haven’t worked through the schools or primary care providers.”
Only a handful of Butte school district students did not have their immunizations on Oct. 1, the day BSB Health Department held its vaccination clinic, said Warner.
The number of vaccinations since Oct. 1 are not yet available from the Anaconda School District, but Anaconda-Deer Lodge Public Health Director Katherine Basirico said her staff, like the BSB experts, work closely with the school district.
“It’s their data, their numbers, and they just tell us what they need,” added Basirico.
The Anaconda Health Department held varicella and Tdap clinics at the end of September. Basirico said it will hold flu vaccination clinics only at various schools on Oct. 29 and 30.