For thousands of parents this year, taking their children to get shots is on their back-to-school to do list.
In the past few weeks, one shot clinic has been booked solid as parents planned a trip to get required vaccinations, in addition to buying the clothes and supplies their children would need before the first day of school.
Starting this school year, kindergartners are required to have received two hepatitis A shots along with the other five vaccinations already required. And high school seniors now need a second meningococcal vaccine, which protects against diseases such as meningitis.
The Indiana Department of Health started recommending students get the new sets of shots this past school year, and this year the shots are required.
Those changes affect more than 1,900 area kindergartners, and more than 1,900 12th-graders.
Families started making appointments to get shots for their students at the Johnson County Health.
Department in mid-July, and this week and next week the health department’s Tuesday and Thursday vaccination clinics are booked.
The weeks leading up to school have always been busy for the health departments, as parents of kindergartners and sixth-graders come to make sure their children have all the shots they need before starting school. This year, high school seniors and their parents also are coming in to get their second meningococcal booster, director of nursing Lisa Brown said.
“We’ve been very, very busy this year,” Brown said.
School nurses have been working since last school year to ensure families knew about the new shot requirements.
Schools sent flyers home with students and called the homes of students who would need additional vaccinations before returning to class.
But sometimes those messages don’t register with parents until the deadline approaches, Brown said.
“They don’t think about getting vaccinated until the last minute,” she said.
The health department typically sees two rushes from families seeking shots during the first semester of school.
The first comes in the weeks before the first day of class, and the second before school districts’ vaccination deadlines.
The deadlines vary for each district, but typically students either need to have all of the required shots or have a doctor’s appointment scheduled so they can get the shots by sometime between October and December.
If they don’t, then they won’t be allowed to return to school. In 2012, 300 Johnson County students hadn’t received all of the shots that were required for the start of school, and Clark-Pleasant, and Franklin schools sent more than 100 students home until they received the shots or made doctor’s appointments.
One reason students have been slow to get all of the required shots is the state health department has changed the vaccination requirements three times since 2010.
That many changes in a short period of time can be difficult for families to keep up with, especially families with older students. Once students move beyond sixth grade, many parents don’t realize their kids will still need more shots, Brown said.
Officials don’t know whether the vaccination requirements will change again next year, but Brown still expects a rush for shots.
And by then, the health department should be able to serve even more families.
Right now, the health department can give free shots to the children of families with Medicaid, while families without insurance or with insurance that doesn’t cover vaccinations pay a $5 administration fee.
But the health department cannot provide shots to students who have insurance. Health department officials want to change that within the next year.
“We hate to do that,” Brown said. “We want to be able to serve the public the best we can. And it’s unfortunate that we have to turn so many people away because they’re fully insured.