July 21, 2020
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, there are risks and difficulties attendant on requiring immunization of children to enter and attend school. During last winter, spring and continuing to the present, preventive medical visits, including those associated with the administration of vaccines, have been postponed to mitigate the risk of transmission of the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, many children in Pennsylvania have not obtained vaccinations on the appropriate schedule and may not have the immunizations required to enter and attend school in the fall of 2020.
Typically, if normal vaccination is not possible, schools and the Department of Health (Department) hold “catch-up” vaccination clinics to administer the required school immunizations to children. The possibility of the persistence of COVID-19 into the fall and the potential need for school nurses and the Department’s public health nurses to be tasked with pandemic-related mitigation, including the possibility of mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics, may prevent schools and the Department from holding “catch-up” clinics for children’s well-child immunizations.
To enable children to enter and attend school or an early childhood program without the required immunizations, with Governor Wolf’s authorization as conferred in the March 6, 2020 Proclamation of Disaster Emergency, the Department is temporarily suspending the regulations at 28 Pa. Code § 23.83, which provides the list of immunizations a child must have and the grades for which the child must have them; 28 Pa. Code § 23.85, which states that children who do not meet the requirements should be excluded and places certain duties on schools to verify that children with medical exceptions who are on a plan to get their immunizations actually obtain the vaccinations; and 28 Pa. Code § 23.86, which requires schools to report to the Department the numbers of vaccinations and children taking exceptions; and 28 Pa. Code § 27.77(b), which requires that a child currently enrolled in a child care program maintain updated immunizations in accordance with federal guidelines. The regulations are suspended for a two-month period after the beginning of the school year or the beginning of enrollment in an early childhood education program.
The Department continues to stress the importance of immunizations. Childhood immunizations are essential to individual and population health. Immunizations protect children against the potentially devastating effects of vaccine-preventable diseases. The specified regulations are being suspended temporarily only in response to the impact of the COVID-19 disaster emergency on the availability of immunizations before the start of the school year.
Read this announcement on the PA DOH’s website here.