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New Pennsylvania rules aim to get students vaccinated sooner

Emily Balser
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AFP/Getty Images
A flu vaccination.

New school vaccination rules that take effect in August will require Pennsylvania children to be fully vaccinated within the first five days of school.

Parents who don’t comply will have to provide a medical plan from a doctor outlining when the child will have all vaccinations, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

“If you can’t get in within those five days, that’s OK. We just want to know that you and your pediatrician have a plan to catch your kid up,” said Loren Robinson, the state’s deputy secretary of health promotion and disease prevention. “Most of this relates to kindergarten registration, because that’s when kids are really getting a lot of the vaccines.”

Parents previously had up to eight months to get their children vaccinated.

The changes are being implemented to ensure more accurate reporting of who is vaccinated to the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and to reduce the potential for outbreaks, Robinson said.

If a student can’t provide the proper documentation, the child could be barred from school.

Robinson said having a record of when students are vaccinated helps school officials know who is at risk if an outbreak occurs.

“When you talk about schools, kids spend a lot of time in close spaces with a lot of other children, and that’s when you have the potential for outbreaks,” Robinson said.

Ronette Poorbaugh, school nurse at East Primary School in Vandergrift, in the Kiski Area School District, said she doesn’t anticipate any significant changes.

“Immunizations are something that we (already) monitor on every student, so it’s not really any extra work,” she said.

Poorbaugh said the majority of students come to school with all required vaccinations. “The only thing we’ve mainly done to prepare is we just developed a letter that we could notify parents,” she said. “We’re trying to give parents enough time to understand (the changes).”

New for this year are requirements for a fourth dose of the polio vaccine and a second dose of the rubella vaccine.

Donna Colucci, school nurse at Deer Lakes Middle School in West Deer, said school nurses will go through 2,000 student immunization cards to make sure everyone is up to date.

“That’s a lot of work for the nurses to have to do that first week of school,” she said. “It’s going to be very time consuming.”

Robinson said there won’t be any changes to exceptions that are permitted for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children for religious or philosophical reasons, or for children who have a medical condition that prevents them from being vaccinated.

“That’s something that a lot of folks have been concerned about,” she said.

Parents must provide documentation of their exception to the school nurse.

Robinson said parents can start working with their doctors now to get their children on a timeline to be fully vaccinated by the start of school.

“Between now and September, there’s plenty of time,” she said.

She said parents shouldn’t view the changes as stressful because they are meant only to protect kids.

“One of the first things we learn in pediatrics, but also in public health, is to keep as many people as safe and healthy (as possible),” Robinson said.

Emily Balser is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-226-4680, [email protected] or on Twitter @emilybalser.

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