All parents of school-age children need to be aware that the immunization requirements in Montana have been changed and those changes affect the 2015-16 school year.

So, parents, it is not too early to start thinking about back-to-school immunizations.

During the 2015 Legislative session, Gov. Steve Bullock signed into law House Bill 158 that added two more vaccines a student needs for school attendance.  The law is effective October 1, 2015.

For the coming school year, students will need to be vaccinated against varicella disease, more commonly known as chicken pox, according to the Department of Public Health and Human Services.,

All students in kindergarten through 12th grade will need to have two doses of varicella vaccine. Students attending a preschool or prekindergarten will need one dose of varicella. If a student has already had a case of chickenpox, documentation from a physician can be accepted in lieu of the vaccine, according to DPHHS.  Additionally, students who already had two doses of the vaccine do not need to repeat it.

Many students may already be current on their immunizations, so there is no need to panic.

“National surveys show that many students are already in compliance with the new law,” said Jim Murphy, chief of the DPHHS Communicable Disease Control and Prevention Bureau. “Parents may just need to check their child’s immunization status and provide an update to the school.”

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Students in seventh through 12th grades will also be required to have one dose of pertussis (whooping cough) containing vaccine.  In previous years, only a Td, or tetanus/diphtheria, shot was required. The new law adds the pertussis component, according to DPHHS.

As long as a student has received at least one vaccine in the required series, that student may qualify for a conditional attendance as allowed by current regulations. A conditional attendance provision allows the student to stay in school while they finish the required shots.

The changes to the law were made to bring Montana’s immunization requirements more in line with the most current immunization recommendations made by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice (ACIP). Montana was the only state that did not require the varicella series and one of five not requiring a pertussis booster at middle school for attendance, according to a DPHHS spokesman.

The new requirements are intended to reduce the incidence of diseases like chickenpox and whooping cough both in school settings and in the community.  Montana’s rates for both of these diseases are typically higher than any other state in the region.

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Parents should consult with their family physician or local health department if they have questions about whether or not their child has the necessary shots for school.

How to Get Help

  • For more information about childhood immunizations, contact your healthcare provider or RiverStone Health at 247-3382. If you need financial assistance to pay for vaccinations, the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program provides vaccines to children 0-18 years old who are uninsured or underinsured.
  • RiverStone Health, at 123 South 27th St.in Billings, offers a walk-in immunization clinic: Mondays 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.,  Wednesdays 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Fridays 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.
  • During August, RiverStone Health will offer additional “Back to School Clinics” in the two weeks before school starts. Those clinics are: Thursday, Aug. 13th; Tuesday, Aug. 18th; Thursday, Aug. 20th; Tuesday, Aug. 25th and a final clinic on Thursday, Aug 27th on the day after school starts. All of the Back to School clinics will run from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.