WHEELING - Northern Panhandle school officials credit their school nurses for getting the word out about new vaccine requirements this year - and the majority of students in the region have met the requirement.
Many of the nurses started educating students and parents last year about the new West Virginia law that calls for students in seventh and 12th grades to get a booster shot of Tdap, which is the vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, and a dose of MCV, which is the vaccination against meningococcal/meningitis. School officials said at the start of the school year they were allowed to give their students a two-week grace period to receive their vaccinations. Those who still did not receive their shots at the end of that grace period could not enter school until they were caught up.
West Virginia adopted the new requirements as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
West Virginia requires all students in seventh and 12th grades to receive two types of vaccines to be enrolled in school.
Valerie Smith, Brooke County Schools Student Services director, said as of Monday, only one student in the county system still needed to get vaccinated.
"We've been working since last fall to make sure all students were immunized," Smith said, noting that during the summer free vaccinations clinics were held at the county health department. And next school year, there will be a whole new batch of students to check.
"People will get used to it. It may take a couple years," she said of the new requirements.
Smith said if a student does not comply, the district would make their absences unexcused until they received their shots. After a certain amount of time, however, the district would still have to give "homebound services" to that student, which means they would be taught core subjects at home by an educator provided by the district.
"That's the worst-case scenario," Smith added.
She said that while the district did a lot of education about the rule, a few parents still complained about it.
Dawn Petrovich, Hancock County Schools Student Services director, said her district's students are fully compliant with the new vaccination law. She credits the amount of education the district's administrators and nurses conducted - sending letters, making phone calls and using automated messages, too.
"We started last year," she added. "We are 100 percent in compliance."
Petrovich said parents were warned last fall that their children would not be able to attend school until they were up to date on their vaccines.
"It was a lot of work on our part and on the parents," she said.
In Ohio County, Superintendent Dianna Vargo said her school system is 100-percent compliant.
"Ohio County Schools is pleased to announce that all of its students have received their required vaccines, Vargo said. "Ohio County Schools and its nurses worked with the Wheeling-Ohio County Health Department in having all of the students in grades seven and 12 meet the new vaccine requirements, and we appreciate the work of the health department and (Administrator) Howard Gamble.
Susan Jones, Marshall County Schools Pupil Services director, said there are nine students there who cannot receive the shots because of medical issues. And 10 others are still listed on the district's enrollment books, but they either have transferred to another district and not informed Marshall County or have dropped out of school, Jones said.
She noted the district's nurses were integral to getting parents on board with the new vaccines. And the health department also was helpful in getting children vaccinated.
Tyler County Schools Attendance Director Melinda Walton said as of Wednesday, there were two students who initially did not meet the district's deadline, but everyone else received their shots on time. She said letters, automated phone messages and personal phone calls were made by the district's nurses to parents.
"Our nurses (Debbie Smith and Mandy Ware) did a really good job," Walton said. "We believe this will get easier every year."
Wetzel County Schools Superintendent Diane Watt said as of Monday, there were fewer than 25 students who had not met the vaccination requirement. But she anticipated that number to soon decrease, as the students have been referred to the health department to get the shots. Of that number, five are middle school students and 20 are high school students. She noted there are 2,800 students in the district, so she said the number of students not in compliance is actually fairly low.
"That's a very low number, not even a percentage," she said. "At this point, anyone unable to complete the vaccine requirement is not being permitted in school."