Missouri students entering eighth and 12th grades have a new immunization requirement.

Missouri students entering eighth and 12th grades have a new immunization requirement.

Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, students entering eighth grade must have one dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV), and students entering 12th grade must have two doses. If the entering 12th grader was 16 years old or older at the time of the first dose, only one dose is required. As with other vaccinations, there are medical and religious exemptions.

The newly required vaccine protects against meningococcal disease, an infection caused by the bacterium Neisseria meningitidis that can affect the bloodstream, brain and spinal cord. Meningococcal disease is somewhat rare — about 1,000 Americans get meningococcal disease each year — but 10 to 14 percent of infected people die from the disease. In cases where it is not fatal, it can lead to permanent brain damage, loss of hearing and loss of limbs.

“Meningococcal disease can make a person seriously ill in a very short amount of time,” said Maria Bernabe, M.D., FAAP, a pediatrician at Lake Regional Clinic – Eldon. “Symptoms may include high fever, chills, nausea, exhaustion and a rash. Often, people think they are coming down with the flu. Treatment with antibiotics can reduce the risk of death, but antibiotics need to be administered early, before the infection causes too much damage.”

Anyone can contract meningococcal disease, but adolescents 16 to 21 years of age are at increased risk, accounting for nearly 15 percent of all U.S. cases. College students are susceptible to meningococcal disease because they live in close quarters and often share food, drink and cosmetics.

There are 13 groups of Neisseria meningitidis that cause disease, five of which cause most meningococcal disease in the United States. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the meningococcal conjugate vaccine is 85 percent effective in protecting against four of the five major strains responsible for meningococcal disease.

To see the full list of required immunizations for Missouri students in the 2016-2017 school year, visit the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services website at health.mo.gov and enter “school immunizations” in the search box.