Student vaccination requirements could change next school year to include meningococcal disease and a booster shot for whooping cough, according to military health officials and the Department of Defense Education Activity.

The adjustments would reflect updated guidelines by an immunization advisory committee from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Those recommendations were forged several months ago and are just now filtering down to military treatment facilities as word spreads of new vaccines for meningococcal disease and whooping cough, clinically known as Bordetella pertussis.

In short, the two new vaccines — Menactra and Boostrix — “are longer lasting” than what is currently available, said Army Lt. Col. William Corr, the preventive medicine consultant for the European Regional Medical Command.

He said the timeline for transitioning to the new vaccines will largely be driven by supply, which should be strained since other users, such as stateside hospitals and schools, are clamoring for them, too.

The Army Surgeon General’s office wants Menactra, the new vaccine for meningococcal disease, in clinics prior to the 2006-2007 school year. Corr supports that goal, but believes it may take up to 36 months, due to demand.

“A vaccine in a bottle doesn’t do much good,” Corr said Monday. “A vaccine in a body does a lot of good.”

Within the U.S. military medical community in Europe, interest in Menactra has grown. Corr said that’s due, in part, to three recent deaths in Germany attributed to meningococcal disease.

“Yes,” Corr said, “there is some impetus” to act quicker based on “the recent cases.”

But, he added, it’s also about wanting to provide the best available vaccines to patients, especially school-aged children.

Currently, there are five series of shots required of DODDS students, said Debra Whitney, a nurse at Kaiserslautern Middle School in Germany. The five series provide cover for: diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; Hepatitis B; and chickenpox.

The proposed changes, which are awaiting Pentagon approval, would add meningococcal to the list and require a booster shot for whooping cough. Those of primary concern would be children in the 11-12 age range, on up to 15.

According to the CDC, the number of whooping cough cases has been rising steadily since the 1980s. In fact, last summer there were several cases in the Kaiserslautern military community, Corr said.

While military medical officials work out the details, Whitney encouraged parents to take heed of any school notices regarding the changes, or to talk to their school nurse.

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