PHOENIX – Arizona, which requires all children entering middle school to be vaccinated against meningitis, is now urging parents to get kids a booster dose five years later.
“It’s such a dangerous disease when you get it,” said Dr. Karen Lewis, medical director of the Arizona Immunization Program Office within the health department.
In 2008, Arizona required students entering sixth grade to be vaccinated against meningitis, a bacterial or viral disease that infects the bloodstream and the membranes covering the brain and the spinal cord. Bacterial meningitis can lead to brain damage, limb amputation and death.
Under the law, the requirement has expanded to sixth through ninth grades this year and will reach sixth through 12th grades in 2014.
Citing new medical research, the CDC says adolescents should get a booster shot at age 16 because immunity provided by the vaccine might diminish after five years. Most children get the first vaccine at age 11.
Adolescents who got their first meningitis shot at age 16 or older don’t need a booster, according to the report.
The recommendation isn’t likely to become mandatory in Arizona any time soon. An executive order by Gov. Jan Brewer bars state agencies from adopting new rules in order to save money and avoid burdening businesses.
Debbie McCune Davis, a Democratic state representative and program director of The Arizona Partnership for Immunization, said requiring a booster would help the state’s children.
“We want to have a safe community, but right now we can’t proceed with those recommendations because the rules are on hold,” McCune Davis said. “Frankly, I don’t see those as falling into the category of barriers to business.”
Brewer’s press office didn’t return phone calls and emails seeking comment.
Andrew LeFevre, a spokesman for the Arizona Department of Education, said his agency supports the recommendation but doesn’t have the authority to require meningitis boosters.
Lewis said she’s confident that parents will heed the recommendation.
“In most instances, the general public doesn’t see a difference between recommendations and rules,” she said.
Lynn Bozof, president of the National Meningitis Association, said she hopes the meningitis booster will become a requirement but thinks Arizona is doing a good job of preventing the disease.
“Arizona was the first state to make it a mandate for 11-, 12-year-olds to get a (meningitis) vaccine,” Bozof said in a phone interview. “Arizona has always been on the forefront of protecting its children.”
Bastien Inzaurralde is a reporter for Cronkite News Service.