Duluth school nurses want better vaccination complianceOnly 75 percent of the Duluth school district’s middle school population is immunized, and school nurses are hoping a strengthened policy will change that.
By: Jana Hollingsworth, Duluth News Tribune
Only 75 percent of the Duluth school district’s middle school population is immunized, and school nurses are hoping a strengthened policy will change that.
School Board members heard a presentation from nurses at their education committee meeting Tuesday and will vote on a revised immunization policy at their Feb. 25 meeting.
The Duluth policy has mirrored state law in requiring one of the following: students aren’t able to enroll in one of its schools without a physician-signed statement of immunizations; a statement from a parent with a list of immunization dates, one from a doctor that says the shots would endanger a student’s health and therefore is exempt; or a notarized statement from a parent citing personal beliefs for not having them. But, said district nurse Sue Sederberg, the policy hasn’t been enforced in Duluth the way it has in other school districts.
“We’re not saying every child has to be (immunized), but we do believe it’s in the best interest of public health,” she said.
The nurses want the ability to notify families when children aren’t in compliance and give them time to respond before excluding a student from school. The student wouldn’t be able to come back until the school had one of the documents.
“It’s not our first choice,” Sederberg said, and notifying parents gives them a chance to share information about vaccinations.
About 90 percent of Duluth kindergarten students have had their shots. Less than 1 percent of the district’s enrollment has provided documents citing medical or personal beliefs for not having been immunized, district nurse Camille Murphy said.
Students entering kindergarten and seventh grade need updated shots the most, the nurses said, noting that St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services will offer free immunization clinics for sixth-graders at both Duluth middle schools in April as a way to help families meet new requirements. Added to the tetanus-diphtheria vaccination this year for that age-group was pertussis. A vaccination against meningitis also begins at that age.
Having the updated vaccination is important, Sederberg said, citing a pertussis outbreak in Duluth schools a couple of years ago. Pertussis also is known as whooping cough.
“We ask you to pass this policy to give us some teeth to help our immunization rates,” Murphy said. “It pains me to see so many at risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.”
The policy changes make the requirements more clear and are what’s recommended by the Minnesota School Board Association, said Jason Crane, assistant director of special services for the district.
The board also will vote on adding instructional days to the school year after seven of them were canceled so far this winter for cold or snowy weather. Superintendent Bill Gronseth said he was meeting with union leaders this week to talk about options and “fully expects” days will be added. He couldn’t yet say whether they will be mixed into the year or added on to the end.