Pediatrics | Published July 24, 2017 | Written by Craig Collison, MD, pediatrics, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Updated immunization guidelines: What you need to know

Craig Collison, MD, pediatrics, Mount Nittany Physician Group

Backpack? Check. Lunchbox? Yes. Notebooks? Got them. As summer winds down and mom and dad prepare to send kids back to school, the Pennsylvania Department of Health (DOH) is reminding parents about new school vaccination requirements that go into effect this August for the 2017-2018 school year.

According to the Pennsylvania School Boards Association, under these changes, the current temporary waiver of eight months for school children to be fully immunized is reduced to five school days. The student must obtain the next or final dose within that five-day window or risk being excluded from school. However, the student may attend school provisionally beyond the five days if he or she submits a medical certificate from a health care provider outlining the dates for additional vaccination. A health care provider includes a physician, certified nurse practitioner or a physician assistant.

If the student has not received all of the doses for a multiple dose vaccine series on the child’s first day of attendance for that school year, the school administrator or a designee may not provisionally admit him or her unless the five-day rule can be met or a medical certificate is provided.

Essentially, DOH representatives are asking parents to do the best that they can to get their kids properly vaccinated with those first five days of school. If, that’s not possible for one reason or another, parents should be sure to ask their pediatrician to provide a medical certificate so the school nurse can have a plan and know that the pediatrician is aware that the child might not be up to date yet, but there is a plan in place to do so.

Other changes:

  • The new requirements primarily affect children entering kindergarten, seventh grade and 12th grade. Kids just entering kindergarten will now need four doses of tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis (whooping cough).
  • Seventh-graders will now need another dose of tetanus, diphtheria, whooping cough (Tdap) and meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) by the first day.
  • Students must now have one additional dose of meningococcal vaccine before entry into the 12th grade.

The new rules are aimed to ensure that more students are vaccinated going into the school year, to avoid outbreaks like the whooping cough outbreak seen in some areas of the state this past school year. Some schools found that several children were showing up without all of their vaccines, causing concerns.

Children transferring from outside the state as well as children in foster care will have 30 days to provide immunization records or provide a medical certificate.

It is also important to note that both the DOH and the Pennsylvania Medical Freedom Alliance have stated there are exemptions to getting your child immunized, which include philosophical, religious and medical exemptions, such as kids undergoing chemotherapy.

It is the hope of the DOH that implementing a few small changes in school immunization policy will play a big role in keeping our kids and our schools safer.

Parents can always read more on these changes by visiting the Department of Health’s website at health.pa.gov. Mount Nittany Health Pediatrics can also answer vaccination questions. To learn more, call 814.466.7921, or visit kids.mountnittany.org.

Craig Collison, MD, is a pediatrician with Mount Nittany Physician Group Pediatrics.