Amy Beardmore doesn’t need any convincing that illness can spread rapidly at a daycare or preschool.
“I think when I started working here, I caught anything and everything that every child got,” said Beardmore, director of the Evergreen Child Development Center at Washington State Community College.
That’s one reason she believes it’s so important for children to receive recommended immunizations against whooping cough, chickenpox and other diseases. It’s a requirement of the Evergreen center and all child care facilities regulated by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services – but it’s not a law.
“There’s no teeth behind that (immunization) schedule at all,” said Melissa Arnold, executive director of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
That group and a number of others under the banner of the Immunization Advocacy Network of Ohio are asking state health officials and legislators to enact a law requiring daycare and preschool providers to obtain proof of a child’s immunizations, just as schools are required to do.
“As public health experts and supporters, we believe such a law provides an added level of protection for children, their families and child care settings,” says a letter recently sent out by the network.
Legislation has not been drafted yet, but Arnold said it would preserve exemptions from getting vaccinations on religious grounds or other reasons of conscience.
“We would never take that away,” she said.
It’s not really a law many people object to, although some might wonder if it’s necessary, given Ohio’s immunization rate of 72 percent for 2-year-olds, the sixth highest in the nation.
“But we used to be number three,” Arnold said.
She said without the strength of a law behind the regulations, some providers may let the immunization requirement slide.
“What we’re hearing more and more is … ‘Don’t worry about that part,'” Arnold said.
That isn’t happening in Washington County, said Kelly Bauerbach, social services supervisor with the Washington County Department of Job and Family Services.
“We have had no incidences where it has been an issue,” she said. For child care providers to keep those records, “I think the rules are sufficient.”
Local Job and Family Services workers perform unannounced inspections of type B child care providers – those providing in-home care to six or fewer children – twice a year. If they don’t have the records, they’re considered out of compliance, which could jeopardize their certification. Child care centers and type A providers, those with 12 or fewer children, are inspected by the state.
Devola resident Denise Wheeler, a type B child care provider, said she’s always followed the rule regarding immunization records. She said it makes sense to make it a law, but whether it is or isn’t won’t change her approach.
Jonni Tucker, public health nurse with the Marietta City Health Department, said she’s in favor of the law, even though she thinks most people who have children are responsible about their immunizations, or at least try to be.
“I think it’s good to have laws like this because it keeps us all in check,” she said.
Tucker noted that some children may not be able to receive vaccines because of allergies. The more children that are vaccinated, the less chance they have of being exposed to a disease from which immunizations would have protected them, she said.
While the Evergreen center posts notifications if children have potentially been exposed to communicable diseases, Beardmore said there are only so many precautions they can take.
“A lot of the diseases that are immunized against, we can have kids here at the center with it and not know for a couple of days,” she said. “Chickenpox, they get the little blisters, but for two days they don’t show the symptoms.”
Arnold said supporters also want legislation to update the immunization schedule to include vaccines against rotovirus, which causes diarrhea and vomiting and can lead to dehydration and hospitalization, and the PREVNAR vaccine, which protects against a form of meningitis.