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Older Kids Also Will Need Hepatitis B Shots

November 23, 1998|SHARI ROAN

Parents of sixth-graders, if you think your child's immunization days are behind you, think again.

A new state law requires all students entering seventh grade in the 1999 school year to be fully immunized for the hepatitis B virus by July 1.

The hepatitis B immunization is a series of three shots spread out over seven or more months, so your child should get the first shot within the next month or two in order to be in compliance by July 1.

Hepatitis B is a highly contagious virus spread primarily through sexual contact and blood products. It can cause severe liver disease later in life. Infection rates in the United States rose dramatically in the 1970s and '80s, leading to a government recommendation in 1992 calling for the immunization of all infants, children and adolescents.

Since 1992, most infants receive the vaccines as part of routine well-baby care. But many older children missed out on that process and have not been immunized.

Dr. Natalie Smith, immunization branch chief for the California Department of Health Services, says she thinks a relatively high percentage--"more than half of sixth-graders"--haven't had their first dose.

According to the Los Angeles County Health Department, families of sixth-graders are being alerted to the law through fliers and school announcements. (A few schools offer the vaccine on site). Pediatricians are also being advised to bring their patients into compliance. And, in January, the state will launch a weeklong publicity campaign.

"We've been working with the schools, and we've seen an increase in the number of vaccine [orders] going out to the schools," says Kristine Brusuelas, chief of staff for the county immunization program.

After the first shot, a second booster shot needs to be given one or two months later, and a third shot six to 18 months after that. The vaccine series can easily cost more than $100, but most insurance companies will cover the cost. Uninsured or poor children can receive the vaccine free under the federal Vaccines for Children program.

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