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PA Health, Education Officials Want Changes To School Immunization Requirements

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

  The Pennsylvania Department of Health  and the Department of Education announced Thursday a joint proposal to revise immunization regulations for school children.

Health Secretary Karen Murphy and Education Secretary Pedro Rivera said this week they want to better protect students’ health by requiring students to finish all immunizations within the first five days of school. If guardians fail to complete that schedule, a written note from a doctor outlining the plan to immunize the student must be submitted to school officials within the first five days of class.  Currently families have up to eight months to make sure school children have their vaccinations.

The proposed changes also call for  two additional vaccinations, a pertussis vaccine and an additional dose of the meningococcal vaccine to be administered prior to entering 12th grade.

Murphy said the goal  is to increase immunization rates in the state’s children and to promote “herd immunity” — verifying a large population is immune to a disease — “so that we don’t have unnecessary exposure to communicable diseases,” she said.

Pennsylvania’s immunization rate for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) in students K-12 currently sits at 91 percent, while over half of U.S. states report MMR vaccination rates above 95 percent, which is the target percentage for achieving herd immunity, according to Murphy.

Rivera said it is the responsibility of educators provide children with a safe learning environment.

“We know if children aren’t healthy, they can’t learn,” he said. “We know if children are hungry, they can’t learn. … If we’ve not served them in a holistic capacity, children aren’t going to be as successful in school and in life.”

In order to be adopted, the proposal must go through the state’s Advisory Health Board and State Board of Education, which could take up to two years to complete.