Officials tout importance of immunizations

Up-to-date shots are crucial, officials say, and opportunities to get them are coming up soon.

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Before the new backpack, before the new clothes - there needs to come the shots, health officials say.

With last year's outbreaks of whooping cough, flu and chickenpox, plus a large measles outbreak just across the border in Canada, parents should make sure their kids are protected by being fully immunized, according to the Washington state Department of Health.

Childhood vaccinations are among the most effective ways to protect children against serious, preventable illnesses - some of which have no cure or treatment.

"Parents make many important decisions to keep their children healthy, and getting immunized is one of the most important," said Dr. Maxine Hayes, state health officer and a pediatrician.

All recommended vaccines for children under 19 are provided free through the state's Childhood Vaccine Program. Those include vaccines required for school and child care, as well as vaccines that aren't required but are recommended by the government, such as human papillomavirus, or HPV, for pre-teens.

Health-care providers may charge an office visit or administration fee, but that can be waived for those unable to pay.

Several immunizations are required before children can attend school and child care. Students in kindergarten through ninth grade must be vaccinated against whooping cough. This is especially important with recent outbreaks in Washington.

Kindergartners and first- and second-graders need two doses of the chickenpox vaccine or must have a health-care provider document they've had the disease. Kids starting third, fourth and sixth grades must get one dose of the chickenpox vaccine or their parents must document their children have had the disease.

Health-care providers can use the CHILD Profile Immunization Registry to help parents complete the necessary paperwork by printing it directly from the registry. Parents should request their child's vaccination records at least a month before school.

In Walla Walla, school vacination clinics at the county health department - 314 W. Main St, Rose Street entrance - are: Aug. 17 and 18, 8-11 a.m. and 1-6 p.m.; Aug. 20, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

In Milton-Freewater, a vaccination clinic facilitated by Umatilla County Health Department is in the planning stage, according to Genni Lehnert, administrator.

For more Walla Walla information call the health department at 524-2650. For Milton-Freewater information, call 541-278-5432.

Although exemptions are allowed for medical, religious or personal reasons, the best disease protection is to make sure children have all recommended immunizations, health officials said. Children who aren't fully immunized may be excluded from attending school, pre-school or child care if a disease outbreak occurs. Unvaccinated children are more likely to get sick or spread disease.

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