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Q&A: Why is Nevada requiring meningitis vaccines for 12th graders?

Rocio Hernandez
Rocio Hernandez
EducationHealth CareK-12 Education
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Starting next school year, Nevada students will be required to be vaccinated against the life-threatening disease meningitis before they start 12th grade – an expansion of a vaccine requirement that already applies to rising seventh graders.

This requirement, which goes into effect after June 30, 2022, applies to all public, private and charter schools in Nevada, the state Department of Health and Human Services said in a Tuesday press release.

About 37,000 students will be entering 12th grade this fall and are covered by the new requirement, according to the Nevada Department of Education. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends two doses of the meningococcal vaccine, also known as MenACWY, for full protection, with the first dose administered at age 11 or 12 and a booster dose at age 16.  

"The health and safety of all Nevada students is our top priority,” said Kristy Zigenis, program manager for the Nevada State Immunization Program. “The MenACWY vaccine will help keep our students safe. We also remind all parents to review the vaccination schedule for children and speak to a trusted health care provider if you have any questions about the recommendations.”

Twenty other states require two doses of the MenACWY vaccine, according to immunize.org

Nevada also requires six vaccines before entering kindergarten, and two vaccines for middle schoolers including the MenACWY vaccine. Students who didn’t receive the MenACWY vaccine prior to this new requirement will only need to get one dose, a health department spokesman said. 

The Nevada Independent reached out to Zigenis for more information about the new vaccine requirement. Here are her responses:

Q: Why is this new vaccine requirement being added now?

A: The State Board of Health adopted an amendment to the Nevada Administrative Code (NAC 392.105) on Dec. 10, 2020 and was approved by the Legislative Commission on Jan. 5, 2021. Vaccination is the best way to prevent meningococcal disease. 

Nevada implemented a requirement for kids entering the 7th grade in the 2017-2018 school year to receive one dose of the MenACWY vaccine. This new requirement aligns with the timing for those same students to receive their booster dose now that they are entering their senior year of high school. 

Preteens and teens are vaccinated at these ages to ensure that they are protected when they are at highest risk of meningococcal disease exposure and infection.

Q: What does the vaccine protect against? 

A: Meningococcal disease is a serious, life-threatening disease caused by bacteria that infect the bloodstream (bacteremia or septicemia) and the brain and spinal cord (meningitis). The disease is spread person-to-person through respiratory secretions (such as saliva, by kissing or coughing). 

It is easily spread during close or lengthy contact, especially among those who share rooms or live in the same household. Anyone is susceptible to meningococcal disease; however teens and young adults are at increased risk of infection. 

Even when treated, meningococcal disease kills 10 to 15 people out of every 100 infected. And of those who survive, about 10 to 20 out of every 100 will suffer disabilities such as hearing loss, brain damage, amputations, nervous system problems, or severe scars from skin grafts.

Q: Are there any side effects to the vaccine? 

A: Some people experience mild side effects to the vaccine, including muscle pain, headache, and fatigue. The side effects typically resolve within one to two days.”

Q: What’s the typical cost of the vaccine? Is it widely available at Nevada doctors’ offices or health care centers?

A: Most private insurance carriers cover the cost of this vaccine. The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program covers the cost of this vaccine for eligible children under the age of 19 years. The vaccine is available through primary care providers, local pharmacies, Health Districts and Federally Qualified Health Centers.”

Q: Will there be any exemptions to this requirement? 

A: Nevada law allows parents or guardians to obtain an exemption to this vaccine mandate if a child cannot be immunized due to a medical condition and requires a doctor’s signature, or if immunizations are contrary to the parents’ or guardians’ religious beliefs. Exemptions requests must be submitted on a standardized form found here and are managed at the school district level.

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