Caitlin Sinett

Thursday, April 27th 2017

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The school year is nearing an end, but the Pennsylvania Department of Health is already looking ahead to next year, reminding parents to get their kids ready.

The department is changing the time frame to get children fully vaccinated from eight months to just five days withing the beginning of the school year.

Deputy Secretary of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention for the Commonwealth, Dr. Loren Robinson, said, “By ensuring that kids are having their immune systems kind of updated, their immunizations up to date, earlier as opposed to this 180 days, we’ll be able to make sure that children who can’t get immunizations are protected.”

Robinson said it’s important to get kids vaccinated to prevent diseases from spreading, which has happened in the past.

“It’s not even in Pennsylvania. We think about the measles that we heard about that was in California. Here in Pennsylvania we’ve had outbreaks of pertussis, and these are things that a few years ago we thought we’d never see again. And because we’ve got a lot of folks who make different decisions about immunization, we want to make sure that as many people as possible can be immunized.”

The Department of Health and Pennsylvania Medical Freedom Alliance officials both said there are exemptions to getting your child immunized, which include philosophical, religious and medical exemptions, such as kids undergoing chemotherapy.

In a statement, Jeff Schott with the PA Medical Freedom Alliance said, “While it is accurate that recent changes have moved the eight-month provisional period to a five-day period in which to comply with school immunization requirements, communications from many school districts and in the media have been omitting any reference to exemptions from the requirements. As a result, we have received messages from many people who feared that their medical, religious, or moral exemptions no longer apply. This is not the case. The exemptions remain intact and have not changed.

Immunization rates in Pennsylvania have been underreported because the compliance period extended well beyond the reporting date. The underreported number has been a factor in a push by some to further limit the exemptions, and more accurate reporting of immunization rates should make it clear that further limiting exemptions is completely unnecessary.”

If your child is not immunized and you can’t provide proper documentation, your child may be barred from coming into school.

Robinson said, “If you can’t get it in the first five days, that’s OK. But we are asking that your pediatrician provide a medical certificate so that the school nurse can have a plan and know that the pediatrician knows that the child might not be up to date yet but there is a plan to catch them up.”