Naho Yako / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer
The following is an article from The Yomiuri Shimbun’s Education Renaissance series. This three-part series focuses on the growing role of the “yogo kyoyu” (health teacher) in helping students with a variety of issues, ranging from simple health problems to bullying and developmental disorders. This, the second installment, focuses on teaching high school students the importance of vaccination against infectious diseases.
MITO–It’s early February, and the second-year students at Hasaki High School in Ibaraki Prefecture are receiving a lecture from their health teacher about measles and rubella–or German measles–during homeroom.
“Rubella during pregnancy can potentially result in a miscarriage or birth defects,” says Junko Hasegawa, the health teacher at the school in Kamisu, the southernmost city in the prefecture. “Measles can kill both mother and child.”
Many of the students appeared to be daydreaming instead of listening to their teacher. But Hasegawa gave a warning that shook them from their stupor: “You need to be immunized against both measles and rubella twice; some of you have only been vaccinated once, some not at all.”
Children are required by law to be vaccinated against measles. The vaccine used to be administered only once to children, but from fiscal 2006, the vaccinations have been required to be given twice. Many older children who were vaccinated only once are not sufficiently immune to the diseases, so they receive the second shot during either their first year of middle school or their third year of high school.
That day at Hasaki high, the students also learned that first-year middle school students and high school seniors who needed to be immunized would receive a letter in the mail stating so, and that some universities require applicants to have complete immunization records.
“I’ve heard of the diseases, but I didn’t know the symptoms or that you can be vaccinated against them,” Ayumi Funakura, 17, said. “Now I know they’re dangerous, so I think I’ll get the vaccine.”
It has been long known that immunization is an effective way to prevent both diseases. Previously, the vaccine was given only once to infants, but there were a number of epidemics among teenagers and people in their 20s, who had little immunity against them. This alerted doctors that single vaccination was not enough, and as a result, children today receive the vaccine twice.
At the high school, none of the students contracted measles during an outbreak of the disease four years ago. However, many students didn’t consult a doctor despite having a fever, and instead went to their health teacher–who performs a service similar to a school nurse–complaining of feeling sick. Some students merely threw away the literature they were given about immunization because they didn’t understand it.
With this, Hasegawa became keenly aware of her students’ ignorance about this highly contagious, potentially fatal disease.
In many municipalities, those who need to be immunized must visit their doctors on their own. Hasegawa complained about this to the local authorities, who in turn authorized group innoculations at three high schools in the city, including Hasaki high, starting with the 2009 school year. With cooperation from the teachers in charge of each class and grade, Hasegawa visited each class to talk about the diseases and the importance of immunization. The school had the students submit a prevaccination form as well.
As a result, the vaccination rate for third-year students at the high school rose to 94 percent during the 2009 school year, far exceeding the national average of 77 percent, which is based on a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry. In the 2010 school year, the high school achieved a 100 percent vaccination rate.
“People who aren’t vaccinated against measles and rubella are taking a big risk,” said Makoto Takeda, a pediatrics expert at the Japan Infectious Disease Surveillance Center in Tokyo. “Schools need to give students good advice, such as consulting a doctor to avoid side effects and allergic reactions.”
Instruction by teachers such as Hasegawa is helping students develop an awareness for preventing the diseases.