Pennsylvania school rules for vaccinations have been updated, and the grace period for students to be up to date on immunizations essentially has shrunk to the first week of school. After that, they can be sent home until they comply.
Vaccines protect children against multiple serious diseases, including whooping cough, polio, and measles, which can require hospitalization and be deadly, especially in young children.
Starting this August, on the first day of school, students who are not current on their vaccinations have five days to catch up or have a written plan signed by their doctor or other qualifying health professional outlining when the vaccinations are scheduled. Students who don’t meet the deadline can be sent home until they vaccinate or have a plan in place. School administrators must review such a medical plan every 30 days to ensure the child is in compliance.
Previously, Pennsylvania students had an eight-month grace period to meet vaccination rules. State health officials said that long period made unvaccinated children vulnerable during an outbreak of an illness such as measles, and it put children who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons at greater risk of contracting an illness.
For attendance in all grades, children need the following:
- 4 doses of tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis* (1 dose on or after the first birthday)
- 4 doses of polio (4th dose on or after 4th birthday and at least 6 months after previous dose given)**
- 2 doses of measles, mumps, rubella***
- 3 doses of hepatitis B
- 2 doses of varicella (chicken pox) or evidence of immunity
*usually given as DTP or DTap or, if medically advisable, DT or Td
**A fourth dose is not necessary if the third dose was administered at age 4 years or older and at least 6 months after the previous dose
***usually given as MMR
For attendance in 7th grade
- 1 dose of tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap) on the first day of 7th grade
- 1 dose of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) on the first day of 7th grade
For attendance in 12th grade
- 1 dose of MCV on the first day of 12th grade. If one dose was given at age 16 or older that shall count as the 12th grade dose
New requirements this year are a fourth dose of the polio vaccine, a second dose of Tdap in seventh grade and, for seniors, an extra dose of the MCV.
Parents retain the ability to exempt their children from immunization requirements based on medical reasons, religious beliefs, or a strong philosophical, moral, or ethical conviction. A signed waiver is required.
For eligible residents, vaccinations are available year-round at state health centers and county/municipal health departments. Find one near you on this searchable list.
For a detailed explanation of the vaccination rules, visit the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s website.