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Help coming to protect students with allergies


Nurses, teachers and other school staff will likely have more flexibility next fall to give adrenaline shots if a student goes into allergic shock. Both houses of the Legislature have unanimously approved a bill that loosens restrictions on how and when schools can use an epinephrine injector. 

The change is meant to save the lives of kids who have a severe allergy, including some rare cases in which the first-ever reaction to a not-yet-diagnosed allergy takes place at school or on a field trip.

If you go into allergic shock, an epinephrine injector—often known by the brand-name EpiPen—is the surest way to save your life. It gets your heart pumping properly. 

Currently, only a school nurse can administer the shot, and they are limited as each child must have his own injector on-hand with a prescription. If a kid doesn’t have a prescribed injector on file, someone has to call 911 and wait, which might take too long.

Doctors and families testified in favor of amending the law (as reported in February). Allergists say the risk of giving someone an unnecessary dose of epinephrine is tiny, while the risk of delay in a case of shock is huge.

But school nurses and other employees were worried about taking on the new responsibility without adequate training.

The compromise, on Senate Bill 5104, makes it optional for school districts to stock epinephrine needles. Once a school has a standing prescription from an allergist, then school nurses can keep a needle on hand and inject any student who’s in allergic shock. And, for students who do have a personal needle and a prescription, it allows trained teachers and other staff to inject them. It also gives legal immunity to school employees acting under this authority.

Allergy doctors have launched a campaign to make sure a majority of schools has an injector available by next September. But first, the bill needs a signature from Gov. Jay Inslee.

Keith Seinfeld is a former KNKX/KPLU reporter who covered health, science and the environment over his 17 years with the station. He also served as assistant news director. Prior to KLPU, he was a staff reporter at The Seattle Times and The News Tribune in Tacoma and a freelance writer-producer. His work has been honored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and the Knight Science Journalism Fellowships at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
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