I recently stood with Pennsylvania Education Secretary Pedro Rivera to announce our agencies’ joint proposal to revise the state’s school immunization regulations.
In most states, children are required to have all recommended immunizations prior to entering school. In Pennsylvania, although a child must have the first dose of any single or multi-dose vaccine to attend school, current regulations allow a provisional waiver of eight months for the child to provide evidence of full vaccination.
The current eight-month provisional window for immunization presents a very real risk for children to become infected and potentially spread preventable, communicable diseases.
Therefore the departments of Health and Education have developed a plan to ensure the highest percentage of Pennsylvania’s school children will be fully immunized. We are also including exemptions for the small number of vulnerable children who need more time to receive all of their necessary vaccinations. This group includes migrant children, refugees, children from low-income families and families in which English is not the first language.
The departments are not making any change to the religious, philosophical or medical exemptions currently provided for in the regulations.
Specifically, the departments are proposing the following revisions to their respective regulations to replace the current eight-month provisional waiver:
• Requiring exclusion from school attendance of a child who lacks a single dose of a single-dose vaccine and/or the first dose of a multiple-dose vaccine.
• Allowing a child who needs the next or final dose of a multiple-dose vaccine to provisionally attend school if the child obtains the next or final dose within the first five school days; OR
• Allowing a child needing more than one dose of a multiple-dose vaccine series beyond the first five school days to attend school provisionally upon the submission of a medical certificate from the child’s health care provider outlining the dates for additional vaccination;
• Requiring school administrators to review the medical certificate and the child’s compliance at least every 30 days; and
• Allowing school administrators to exclude a child who does not comply with the dates in the submitted medical certificate.
Children who are defined as homeless under federal law are excluded from these rules. Also, children transferring from outside the commonwealth will have 30 days to provide immunization records or comply with the requirements.
Proposed revisions from both the Department of Health and Department of Education must first be approved through the regulatory process before taking effect.
Our efforts to revise the school immunization regulations have received support from the Pennsylvania Medical Society and the Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners.
Our goal is to ensure that virtually all Pennsylvania students will be fully immunized when they start school next year, protecting the health of their classmates, teachers and the entire community. For more information, visit www.health.pa.gov.
Karen Murphy is secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Health.