Pa. Dept. of Education Secretary Rivera Introduces Proposed Changes to Immunization Regulations

HARRISBURG, Pa. – At a meeting of the State Board of Education last week, Pennsylvania Department of Education Secretary Pedro A. Rivera introduced proposed changes in regulations that would update the state’s policy for immunizing school children.

The Department of Education is working closely with the Department of Health on updating each department’s regulations to ensure students are protected against preventable but dangerous diseases, such as measles.

“The measles outbreak in California last year prompted the commonwealth to re-examine its policies for preventing similar outbreaks in our schools,” Secretary Rivera said. “Currently, Pennsylvania is below the 95 percent benchmark to achieve herd immunity. Our goal is to identify why Pennsylvania’s levels are this low, and then put in place measures which could increase them.”

Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient proportion of a population has been vaccinated, making it unlikely that infectious disease will spread from person to person.

In his remarks to the State Board, Secretary Rivera said that one explanation which both departments identified for Pennsylvania’s lower rates is the state’s current eight-month provisional period for a student to become fully immunized. This means that under current regulations, a student can attend school for nearly the entire school year without being fully immunized.

Both departments propose to reduce the eight-month provisional period to five school days, in which a student must receive their final dose of a multi-dose vaccine or, if the medical schedule does not allow this, submit a medical certificate from his or her health care provider outlining the dates to receive his or her boosters of a multi-dose vaccine.

“The current eight-month provisional windows allows unnecessary exposure to communicable diseases,” said Secretary of Health Dr. Karen Murphy. “Our goal is to ensure 95 percent of all Pennsylvania students will be fully immunized when they start school next year, protecting the health of their classmates, teachers and the entire community from preventable communicable diseases.”

Secretary Rivera noted that the proposed medical certificate provision recognizes that the state’s most vulnerable children, who may be behind in full immunization, need additional time to be fully immunized. Those groups include migrant children, refugees, children from low-income families, and English language learners. In addition, local districts would remain the final authority on whether to allow a student who does not adhere to his or her medical plan.

“Illness causes disruptions in instruction and learning,” Secretary Rivera said. “The underlying goal of updating Pennsylvania’s immunization regulations is to keep the commonwealth’s students healthy, safe, and able to learn.”

In response to the secretary’s comments, the State Board appointed a committee to consider the department’s proposal.

The regulatory process includes a public comment period and a public hearing, as well as reviews by the attorney general, the General Assembly, and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

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