Forget the religious-based objections or any other reason not to get your child vaccinated: All students in grades seven through 10 must get a meningococcal conjugate vaccine or they will not be allowed to attend school next week. Period. In fact, a total of two doses is required: some 12th graders may still require two while most will need one more.
“Any student who is not fully vaccinated will not be allowed on campus the first day of school,” warned Adam Fine, principal at East Hampton High School.
“Our hands are tied,” said Richard Burns, the East Hampton school district superintendent, referring to the new law. “There is nothing we can do.”
Meningococcal disease is a rare but dangerous disease that strikes without warning. It can cause meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord) and sepsis (blood infections). Even with treatment, an infection can lead to death within a few hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control. “In non-fatal cases, permanent disabilities can include loss of limbs, hearing loss, and brain damage,” it states.
“Immunizing children and young adults at these ages is critical to protecting them from this potentially fatal and devastating disease,” said Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker. “We are fortunate to have a vaccine for meningitis and urge parents to stay on top of their children’s vaccine requirements.”
The abruptness and finality of the law gave some parents cause for pause, but Burns said the vaccines are plentiful and easy to get. “There haven’t been many pushbacks. We hand-delivered letters and set up meetings with nurses if need be.”
“Fears can arise from practical concerns, say, the modern vaccine schedule, which requires children to receive up to 24 shots before the age of two. Or they can arise from scientific or moral misgivings,” according to a study by Scientific American.
There are some rare occasions when the vaccine requirements can be waived, specifically children with immune deficiencies, Burns noted. “We have less than 10 parents with religious objections,” he said.
“Throughout history, it was common to believe that vaccines were violating God’s way or perhaps violating the sanctuary of the body,” said Arthur Allen, author of “Vaccine: The Controversial Story of Medicine’s Greatest Lifesaver.”
In New York State last year, a measles outbreak flourished in a couple hot pockets. Measles cases were concentrated among children from Orthodox Jewish families, many of whom attended religious schools where vaccination rates may have been below the 95 percent threshold considered necessary to maintain immunity. The outbreaks began when unvaccinated travelers returned from Israel, where an outbreak persisted, and spread the disease here.
Burns said that will not happen again, and that there isn’t a groundswell of support for a similar boycott of the vaccine.