As a tetanus infection progresses, muscle spasms in the jaw develop into a condition commonly known as jockjaw. Like the upper-respiratory infection known as diphtheria and the whooping-cough causing bacteria called pertussis, tetanus is easily prevented with the use of immunizing booster shots. The booster is now mandated by Virginia law for every incoming sixth grader.
According to a new law passed in Richmond last year by the General Assembly all sixth graders must subject themselves to the needle before walking into the classroom on the first day of school if at least five years have passed since the last shot. The immunization which protects against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis must be administered before the first day of school — and students who do not meet the requirement by the first day of school in September will be excluded from school.
"Last year we had a 90-day grace period because it was a new law," said Amy Carlini, a spokeswoman for Alexandria City Public Schools. "But this year we will have no grace period, and all sixth grade students must have had the Tdap immunization."
Students who still need to provide documentation of the Tdap vaccine should bring it to their middle-school registrar as soon as possible. To help prepare for the coming immunization needs in Alexandria, school officials have been working with city workers to schedule several free immunization clinics.
"I don’t think that the new requirement will really be a problem because of the free clinics that are being offered in the city," said Kerry Rogers, executive director of the Alexandria Education Partnership. "Logistically speaking, I think we can make sure all the sixth grade students are immunized before the first day of school."
Shots may be obtained from private doctors, military clinics or the health department. Free children's immunization clinics will be held at the Alexandria Health Department at 4480 King St. on Mondays from 2 to 7 p.m. and Tuesdays from 8 to 11 a.m. on Tuesdays. No appointment is necessary. The last opportunity to receive the vaccine from the Alexandria Health Department prior to the first day of school will be Aug. 28, from 8 to 11 a.m.
In addition, the school nurses of Alexandria City Public Schools are sponsoring a student health and immunization fair on Wednesday, Aug. 29, at Polk Elementary School, 5000 Polk Ave., from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is free and open to ACPS students in grades K-5 who need physical exams, lab tests and/or immunizations in order to meet school entry requirements. Information for families on general health care and guidance in how to apply to health insurance programs will also be available. All students should be accompanied by a parent or guardian and bring copies of their immunization records, health histories and allergy information. Families should pre-register by calling 703-321-1990.
"We want to eliminate preventable diseases that can be spread among children," said Adam Ebbin (D-49), who voted for the measure last year. "And we don’t want kids who come to school to learn to face illnesses that are easily prevented."