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New immunization requirements to go into effect for Georgia seventh-graders
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Parents of soon-to-be seventh-grade students have the rest of the summer to make sure their children comply with the new state immunization law.

Beginning this upcoming school year, all entering seventh-graders are required to have the meningitis vaccine and the Tdap booster shot for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis.

“We’ve had an increase in the number of pertussis cases over the years (across the state),” said Mamie Coker, health services coordinator for the Hall County School District. “What they found out with the Tdap vaccine is that it waned. It wasn’t a lifelong protection, so a lot of people were getting pertussis around this age group, so that’s why they decided they needed to add a booster vaccine.”

Pertussis, commonly referred to as whooping cough, can first appear masked as the common cold, with symptoms like a runny nose, low-grade fever and occasional cough. Symptoms then worsen over one to 10 weeks, according to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The original series of vaccinations typically take place from birth through the child’s sixth birthday, according to the CDC.

Also, it’s been highly recommended to have the meningitis vaccine administered around age 11; now the state requires the vaccine, along with another highly-recommended booster shot in high school.

Meningitis is an infection of the membranes covering the brain and spinal cord. Viral meningitis is fairly common and not as dangerous, but bacterial meningitis, typically passed from one infected person to another, can be deadly.

Coker said most parents don’t realize the booster vaccine for meningitis is so highly recommended, though many colleges and universities require that booster shot if a student is living in the dormitories.

While some controversy still swirls across the country about the practicality and side effects of vaccinations, Coker said it has not been an issue for the majority of Hall County students.

“A lot of parents, they’re just wary. ‘Oh gosh, another vaccine,’” Coker said. “But I think the pendulum is swinging back when they realize that the research did not bear out, that autism is not caused by vaccines. So parents are a little more comfortable with them.”

The only way a family can opt out of the required vaccinations in Georgia is by having a medical or religious waiver.

“If a student has had their vaccines all the way up until this time, it would be a conflict for a parent for all of a sudden to claim a religious waiver,” Coker said.

“But still, it’s a parent’s decision. But what we do encourage is to get the facts. Don’t just get your information from Dr. Google, or from other parents. Talk to your health care provider because they’re the ones who have the facts, and they’re the ones you should trust.”