Changes to immunization requirements have plenty of parents scheduling doctor appointments for their children before the school year begins. Several new requirements become effective Sept. 1.

Dr. Courtney Meena, a Conway pediatrician, said the biggest change this year is that kindergarteners and first graders need a Hepatitis A shot. Also, children who will be age 11 or older will be required to have a Tdap shot, qhich protects against tetanus, diptheria and pertussis, also known as whooping cough.

"There’s so much pertussis going around," Meena said. "Pertussis is bad for small babies or infants because it can kill them. Immunizing the children that we can protects the infants that we can’t immunize yet."

According to a press release from the Arkansas Department of Health, in 2013 there were 466 cases of pertussis in Arkansas, up from 80 cases in 2011. The disease is highly contagious and causes uncontrollable, violent coughing fits, which can make breathing difficult. It can result in death.

Mena said the changes in immunization requirements have caused her pediatric clinic to be so busy that they have been open on Saturdays trying to accommodate all the people wanting to get their children immunized before school starts.

"It’s the most important thing you can do to protect your child, I think," she said.

Another new requirement is a meningococcal shot for seventh graders. Students also receive a booster shot of this vaccine when they turn 16.

"A lot of these things we vaccinate against can lead to death, and meningitis is one that can lead to brain damage and brain death and death," Meena said. "They’ve been able to develop better immunizations and are able to protect kids against more things than they were before. Hepatitis A is relatively new, and the meningitis is as well."

Students in kindergarten through grade 12 are required to have two varicella shots, according to the department of health. Varicella is also known as chickenpox.

Parents should remember to bring their child’s shot records, especially if they are going to a different clinic, so they are sure to get the correct shots. The most common side effects of immunizations are a slight fever and pain or swelling at the injection site.

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