As students in Pittsburgh and across the state prepare to head back to school, they will be required to comply with a new immunization policy from the Pennsylvania Department of Health.
Under new regulations that went into effect this month, students who are not fully immunized within the first five days of school could be barred from the classroom. The previous policy gave parents eight months to get their children vaccinated.
Students in grades K through 12 are required to receive multiple vaccines for tetanus, mumps, measels, hepatitis B and a variety of other diseases. Students in 7th grade must also receive additional vaccinations for meningitidis, tetanus, diptheria and acellular pertussis.
Students who are not up to date when school starts will still be allowed to attend classes if parents provide a signed medical plan from a doctor or medical provider outlining when the child will be caught up with vaccinations.
Health department officials said the changes will ensure more accurate reporting of who is immunized to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and will help reduce the risk of potential outbreaks. According to Rae-Ann Green, director of health services with Pittsburgh Public Schools, city schools haven’t had an outbreak, nor has the district seen any significant drop in the number of students failing to be properly immunized.
“I don’t think we have a decrease in the number of kids being immunized, but I do think we have a number of kids who are immunized but don’t submit proper documentation,” she said.
Green said district officials began notifying parents about the change at the end of the last school year, and nurses spent the summer reminding parents to get their children immunized.
“In addition, we’ve had our Ronald McDonald Care Mobile come out to our Summer Dreamers Program and we announced to our parents they would be available at the camp site to offer immunizations if they were needed,” she said.
Exceptions will still be permitted for parents who opt out of vaccinations for religious and philosophical reasons, as well as for children who have a medical condition that prevent them from being vaccinated.
A back-to-school immunization clinic will be held Monday Aug. 21 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Langley Elementary School in the West End for students who still need their vaccinations.