Coeur d’Alene School Board members voted unanimously Monday to become the first Idaho school district offering hepatitis B vaccinations.
“We are at a greater risk now. This is a good place to start,” said visibly pleased school nurse Terri Ethridge after the board action.
School-based vaccinations have been eliminated over the years, largely because of reduced budgets and the requirement for signed parental consent.
There’s a greater risk of hepatitis B in schools today for both students and staff members, Ethridge said. Tattoos and body piercing are gaining popularity among young people, for example. Janitors increasingly are coming in contact with needles and syringes used by diabetic students who inject insulin at school.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-fourth of children in the United States have not been fully immunized against childhood diseases. Idaho has one of the lowest child immunization rates in the nation.
The Coeur d’Alene School District’s voluntary program will focus on students ages 11 and 12 as well as on at-risk high school students, adult food service workers and janitorial staff members.
The district plans to review its insurance coverage to be sure it is protected from liability before beginning the inoculations - a series of three shots given over six months.
Hepatitis B, a virus that attacks the liver, can cause serious illness and death in chronic carriers. The younger a person is when infected, the more likely he or she will become a carrier and suffer from chronic liver disease or liver cancer later in life.
The virus is spread by direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids from an infected person. The virus can be spread by having sex or sharing needles used for drugs, ear piercing or tattooing, or sharing toothbrushes, razors or anything else with blood on it.
Hepatitis B vaccines have been required for students entering schools since 1991. The new program will target those students who started school before the requirement.
The Idaho Immunization Program is subsidizing these hepatitis shots, which cost $36.50 per dose and are good for a lifetime. The school-based program is just one piece of a renewed effort by health care workers statewide to improve protection against childhood diseases, Ethridge said.
“We are a team in Coeur d’Alene, and this completes the circle,” Ethridge said. “We’ll get Idaho up to snuff.”
More than 1 million people in the United States are infected with the hepatitis virus, and 300,000 new infections occur each year.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: IMMUNIZATION HOTLINE For more information call the Center for Disease Control’s toll-free National Immunization Information hotline at (800) 232-2522. The number for those speaking Spanish is (800) 232-0233.