Due to the coronavirus pandemic, state officials have delayed the deadline for children to have their vaccines to two months after the start of the upcoming school year.
The state departments of Education, Health, Human Services and Insurance are advising parents and guardians to schedule appointments for the necessary vaccines as soon as possible, as many health care providers may have delays in scheduling and decreased appointment windows to administer the shots.
A news release from Gov. Tom Wolf's office advises that all required immunizations must be administered to students of cyber and charter schools as well as public schools.
The release said the temporary suspension of childhood immunizations allows children to enter and attend school or an early childhood program for two months without the required immunizations.
Temporarily suspended are the list of immunizations a child must have and the grades in which the child must have them, the exclusion from school of children who have not had the immunizations, the requirement for schools to verify that children with medical exemptions who are on a plan to get the immunizations actually get them, and the regulation that requires children currently enrolled in child care programs maintain updated immunizations.
But officials stressed that the immunizations are important and parents and guardians must schedule them for Pennsylvania's children.
“It is essential that everyone, especially children, are up to date on all recommended immunizations,” said Dr. Rachel Levine, the state secretary of health. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact our state, we want to emphasize that vaccines are a safe and effective way to protect yourself from a number of serious, life-threatening diseases.”
Levine said vaccinations help protect everyone around a child, including those with compromised immune systems who cannot themselves be vaccinated.
Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are required to receive immunizations against tetanus, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B and chickenpox.
Children entering seventh grade need additional immunizations including the meningococcal conjugate vaccine and for tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis.
Levine said families who have lost coverage due to a change in employment or income can access coverage for their children through Medicaid or the state Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP). The latter program is not based on income and includes well-child examinations.
“Immunizations are a necessary part of well-child visits and help your children and others they encounter stay safe from preventable diseases,” said Teresa Miller, the state secretary of human services. “As Pennsylvania faces a pandemic, we cannot lose sight of what we can do every day to protect our children and prevent outbreaks and spread of other preventable illnesses.”
More information on CHIP is available at chipcoverspakids.com.
Families can apply for CHIP and determine their eligibility for Medicaid and other assistance programs at www.compass.state.pa.us.
Information on required immunizations is available at health.pa.gov.