Maine CDC Press Release

September 8, 2004

New School Immunization Requirements Take Effect

Contacts:
DeEtte Hall Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH
School Nurse Consultant Director, Bureau of Health
Dept. of Education Dept. of Health & Human Services
Tel:  (207) 624-6688 Tel: (207) 287-3270
TTY: (207) 624-6800 TTY: (207) 287-8066


Augusta - As children return to school this week, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is reminding parents and students of new immunization requirements in effect this year. All children entering kindergarten, first, second and ninth grade must show protection against chickenpox (varicella) for school entry.

“This requirement will protect the public health of our children,” said HHS Commissioner John R. Nicholas. “The rule changes were approved by the Legislature and the Governor in 2003 and align Maine with similar requirements in most other states.”

The complete rule change will be implemented over a five-year period. Last year, those entering kindergarten and first grade needed to show protection against chickenpox in order to gain entry into school. Beginning this year, this requirement is extended to those entering grades two and nine. By 2007, the requirements will be expanded to include all grades.

Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH, Director of HHS’s Bureau of Health, noted that while many people may have weathered chickenpox as children, it is a much more serious issue for those over the age of 13. “For adolescents, adults, and those with underlying conditions such as asthma, medical steroid use, and cancer, chickenpox infection can be life-threatening,” Dr. Mills added. “Because of these dangers and because chicken pox is highly contagious, the new vaccine requirements will go a long way to better protect everyone’s health,” she added.

Children entering kindergarten, first, second, and ninth grades will need to show either a certificate of vaccination against varicella; proof of immunity to chickenpox (i.e. documentation of a blood test showing immunity to the disease); an annual note from the health care provider that the vaccine is medically inadvisable; or a note from the health care provider that the student has had chickenpox. An annual parental waiver is also appropriate for those with a sincere religious belief or philosophical reason that is contrary to the immunization requirement.

HHS is working with the Department of Education and school nurses to assist schools with outreach to parents and to answer questions they may have. HHS is also launching a public service announcement produced by some youth in Washington County this week, letting their peers know about the importance of getting vaccinated against chickenpox.

For more information about the new varicella vaccination requirement contact the Maine Immunization Program, toll free, at (800) 867-4775 or on the world wide web at www.immunizeme.org.