HARRISBURG – The Pennsylvania Department of Health is extending the grace period by two weeks for students to comply with new school immunization requirements. The new rules went into effect last August, and if students don’t have the required immunizations, they may not be able to attend school.
Families were given an eight-month provisional period when the school year began to get students up to date with their vaccinations. Without this extension, the grace period would have come to an end in most areas next week.
“We have received reports from some school districts that students had still not received the required vaccines,” said Dr. Eli N. Avila, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “While we cannot stress enough the importance of getting vaccinated, we hope the extension will allow additional time to ensure no students are excluded from classes.”
The new regulations require children in all grades to receive a second dose of mumps vaccine as well as a second dose of the chicken pox vaccine.
They also require students in seventh grade to have one dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV4) and one dose of the tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap). The vaccines need to be appropriately spaced apart to be considered valid.
To help parents and caregivers meet the deadline, the Department of Health held free immunization clinics during the week of April 9. More than 2,300 people were vaccinated and more than 5,000 vaccines provided.
The department established the new regulations, but enforcement is up to individual school districts. School districts maintain the right to exclude students from schools who do not have the proper vaccinations. They can also allow students who can prove they have an appointment prior to the extended deadline to remain in school.
The department has been working closely with school districts to provide information and encourage physicians and healthcare providers to assist in getting students vaccinated before the deadline.
“Vaccines are among the most successful and cost-effective public health tools available for preventing disease,” said Dr. Eli Avila, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health. “We need to ensure our students are safeguarded against disease.”
Any student who is not yet up to date should make an appointment with their local healthcare provider, or call 877-PA HEALTH (877-724-3258) to be connected to their local state health center. The most recent copy of the student’s vaccination history must be provided at the time of the appointment. Students must be accompanied by a parent or guardian.
Exemptions are allowed by law for medical reasons verified by a healthcare professional, on religious grounds, or on the basis of a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief. However, the student must fill out a statement for exemption and provide it to his or her school.
To review the regulations, visit www.health.state.pa.us/immunizations. The regulations were developed upon recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.