DES MOINES | Students or staff members in schools across Iowa who have allergy-related health issues will be able to breathe easier next school year.
Legislation approved by the 2015 Legislature that was signed into law on Friday by Gov. Terry Branstad allows trained school personnel and volunteers to use epinephrine auto-injectors, commonly known as EpiPens, when they believe a student is experiencing anaphylaxis -- a severe allergic reaction that can cut off a person's breath.
The law also would apply to summer camps, youth sports facilities, carnivals and other venues.
"It's a great day for school nurses and for kids in Iowa," said Laura Wheeler, a school nurse at three elementary schools in Cedar Rapids who has worked for nearly five years trying to get legislation passed that will be especially important in rural areas where access to emergency medical services may be miles away. "This year we just had more momentum," she noted.
Currently, Iowa is one of only four states that do not allow schools to hold a stock supply of EpiPens to treat life-threatening allergic reactions. Branstad said the new law is important because evidence shows 25 percent of individuals who experience an allergic reaction do not know that they have an allergy.
"This is a proactive approach to prevent student deaths or severe injury that has become too common around the country," said Branstad, who held a bill-signing ceremony attended by school nurses from around Iowa and parents of children who have allergic conditions.
"It's wonderful to see that it was passed," said Stephanie Deitch, a North Liberty mother whose 3-year-old son, Connor, has a peanut allergy. "It's very important. We've been lucky enough in our state that there haven't been any deaths."
Under current law, Iowa schools are only allowed to administer the medicine to students who already have a prescription. S.F. 462 makes stocking the EpiPens voluntary rather than mandatory, which some school officials saw as an unfunded mandate, and allows a school nurse or a trained nursing assistant to administer an EpiPen from stock being supplied by a manufacturer at no cost to the state or schools, Branstad said.