Public- or private-school students in grades nine to 12 have been added to the list of those who must receive two doses of chickenpox vaccine starting next fall.
Washington state health officials are reminding parents of a new state requirement that adds high-school students to the list of those required to be vaccinated against chickenpox starting this fall.
In the 2016-2017 school year, all students in public and private school grades kindergarten through 12 must show proof of two doses of chickenpox vaccine, proof of previous disease or a blood test showing immunity to chickenpox or herpes zoster, a related infection. Or, they can provide an approved exemption.
Last year, students in kindergarten through eighth grade had to meet the standard. This year adds students in grades nine through 12, according to a state requirement that took effect in November 2014.
It’s the last step in a program to ensure that all schoolchildren are protected against chickenpox, which was once regarded as a harmless disease of childhood. The highly contagious virus spreads quickly and causes an itchy, blistering rash and fever.
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Before a varicella vaccine was introduced in the U.S. in 1995, about 4 million people caught the disease each year, leading to about 10,600 hospitalizations and 100 to 150 deaths annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, people who’ve had chickenpox are at risk for developing shingles (also known as herpes zoster), a painful illness sparked by the virus.
After the vaccine became widely available, cases of chickenpox fell by more than 80 percent, the CDC reported.
Varicella is one of 11 vaccine-preventable diseases that children are required to be immunized against before attending school or day care in Washington state. Students may be exempted from the immunization rule if their parents obtain a note or state form signed by a health-care provider.
Health officials issued the reminder now to urge parents to get kids vaccinated against chickenpox early, before the back-to-school rush.