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Vaccine rush puts pressure on Kanawha-Charleston Health Department

As Kanawha-Charleston Health Department officials rush to vaccinate schoolchildren before the start of classes, they're facing two challenges they've never dealt with before. 

Kanawha County schools resume classes in just four days. The Aug. 9 start date is the earliest in county history and has caused a scramble to get all students inoculated in time.

And Kanawha-Charleston also has been covering all clinical services for the Putnam County Health Department, which folded under the weight of a financial crisis in June.

By state law, students must have a host of vaccinations before they can attend classes. As such, Kanawha-Charleston will be open to walk-ins through much of the week.

This year, though, the decision of Putnam County's Board of Health to lay off its entire staff has put extra pressure on Kanawha-Charleston. Putnam County residents are currently receiving clinical services through Kanawha-Charleston.

"That could overwhelm Kanawha," said Brenda Isaac, head nurse for Kanawha County Schools. "But the health department is going to try to set something up for those people so it's not a problem."

Details on that plan haven't been released yet. Vickie Klennert, Kanawha-Charleston's clinical division supervisor, said administrators would release those details in coming weeks.

Putnam County students don't return to school until Aug. 22 - nearly two full weeks later than Kanawha. That should buy health department officials time as they try to handle the workload from Putnam County.

No vaccine shortages are anticipated, Klennert said.

"We have plenty of vaccine," she said. "We don't think we're going to run out."

Isaac said officials believe they have an appropriate supply statewide as well.

Last year several West Virginia counties came up against shortages before the start of school in August, largely because of new vaccination requirements in West Virginia requiring seventh and 12th grade students to be vaccinated, not just the kindergarten and preschool students.

Last August, several counties across the state faced shortages or were forced to bring on extra staff to meet the demand. The state was forced to grant a two-week grace period after the start of school to let students meet the vaccination requirements.

This is the second year the law has been in effect. Now facilities are better equipped to deal with the influx of students. But the state hasn't instituted a grace period - so students have to meet their vaccine requirements by the first day of school to be allowed to attend.

Isaac said nurses would be on hand at many, if not all, schools to ensure that all students have met the requirements. Students who haven't received the appropriate vaccines won't be allowed in class until they can prove they've been vaccinated.

West Virginia and Minnesota are the only two states that don't allow exemptions for philosophical or religious reasons - only medical excuses exempt a student from the required vaccines.

"We're fortunate in West Virginia for a change we are actually on the forefront here," Isaac said. "Because with immunizations it's not just about getting your child immunized to protect your child, it's also to protect everybody that child comes into contact with."

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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