The Minnesota Department of Health has ramped up efforts to fight chicken pox this fall, mandating that all children entering kindergarten and 7th grade receive two vaccinations if they have not already had the illness.
Previously, parents had been encouraged, but not required, to show proof that their child had received the vaccine for varicella, the virus that causes chicken pox.
Children typically receive their first shot between 12-15 months. A second shot is usually given before a child starts kindergarten. The two rounds of shots are about 90 percent effective in preventing the illness.
Although the illness is usually mild, it can lead to serious complications, including scarring, pneumonia, and swelling of the brain. The virus can also cause shingles, a painful rash, later in life.
MPR's medical analyst, Dr. Jon Hallberg, says the requirement is more about economics than health concerns.
"Unlike some other childhood illnesses, I think a lot of the reason we're immunizing is because of parents," Hallberg told All Things Considered today. "When a kid is home with chicken pox, they're highly contagious, and they cannot go to day care and they cannot go to school. So a parent could be out of work for a week, and it almost becomes an economic decision."
The Department of Health will grant exceptions to the requirement if parents show proof of a medical exemption signed by the child's healthcare provider. Parents can also opt out of the requirement if they are "conscientiously opposed" to the vaccine, but will need to file a notarized waiver with their child's school to document their objection.