The start of the new school year is a stressful time for both parents and students. Trying to get school supplies, new clothes or uniforms, books and making sure all students are up-to-date on their doctor checkups and vaccinations—there’s a lot going on. While most of these things can’t really be taken care of until a month or two before school starts, there is one thing you can be aware of and plan for far in advance: immunizations.
There are going to be some changes to the immunization regulations for children, but school districts and parents are going to have a long time to prepare as the new policies will not take effect until the 2017-18 school year, says Dr. Karen Murphy, secretary of health for the Pennsylvania Department of Health,
“It is a regulatory process that usually takes a year or so,” she says.
Currently, parents and guardians have an eight-month period in which to get their children up-to-date on required immunizations, as developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and Pennsylvania Department of Education. The new policy will reduce that time frame to five days.
While it is a big change, it is one designed to protect children, faculty and staff, as well as the families of the children, Murphy says.
“We are acting in the best interest of the children and families. We want to prevent children from exposing other children and maybe taking home those illnesses or diseases to other family members,” Murphy says.
The time period before these regulations kicks in will hopefully allow parents to review their children’s records, confer with their pediatricians and get up-to-date before it becomes an issue.
Pennsylvania DOH and PDE work hard to provide pediatricians with the necessary information so that they can educate their patients and help parents stay on top of necessary immunizations.
“Having that extra year to get caught up on vaccinations should help everyone,” Murphy says.
There’s also an extended media campaign that will help make both school district officials and families aware of the changes.
Why the Change?
Part of the reason for the new mandate is the rise in some illnesses, like pertussis, also known as whooping cough. While the illness may only cause discomfort in older children, it can be deadly for younger children.
“Pertussis can be fatal to a newborn baby,” Murphy says. “We worry about public health and want to protect everyone in the families, not just school children.”
Families may be exempt from immunization regulations for three reasons:
- For religious reasons
- For health care concerns, like children who may have compromised immune systems
- For philosophical reasons
These families may complete necessary paperwork available from their school districts, Murphy says.
The new regulations will place a greater responsibility on school officials to stay on top of the required immunization records, but the advance notice should help them prepare.
Murphy reassures districts and families that the new requirement is in the best interest of everyone’s health.
“We want Pennsylvania to remain a leader in protecting our children,” she says.