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COVID-19 vaccine optional, schools still require numerous other vaccines | Family First with FOX43

The Pennsylvania Department of Health requires students to have a series of inoculations by the time school begins or risk them being excluded.

YORK, Pa. — While Pennsylvania's Departments of Health and Education have not made it mandatory for kids 12-years-old and over to get the COVID-19 shot, there are a number of other vaccines students are required to get if they want to participate in normal school activities. 

Under the Pennsylvania School Code, public schools, starting as early as kindergarten, require kids to have a series of immunizations:

  • 4 doses of tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (commonly known as DTaP)
  • 4 doses of polio
  • 3 doses of Hepatitis B
  • 2 doses of measles, mumps, rubella (commonly known as MMR)
  • 2 doses of varicella (chickenpox) or proof of immunity

"If you don't have one of these required vaccines, you have five days to get it or you may be excluded from school," Dr. Mark Goedecker, a family medicine physician at Wellspan Health in York, said. "All of these vaccines have been tested for years and years and years. There is great data that suggests they are extremely safe and effective and that's why we use them."

Doctors like Goedecker are concerned some families may be behind on their child's vaccinations. The COVID-19 pandemic kept some away from scheduling normal checkups and shots.

There is also expected to be a considerable number of students starting Kindergarten this fall compared to last year. According to Pennsylvania Department of Education data, there were 12,869 fewer students enrolled in kindergarten in the 2020-21 school year compared to 2019-20. The numbers indicate the possibility of a growing number of students starting school who may be without their full dosage of immunizations.

"There is a significant risk not only to the child but to other children that they could spread it to," Dr. Goedecker said. 

There are some exemptions for families who choose not to get their children vaccinated. Among them, medical reasons, religious beliefs, and strong philosophical/strong moral or ethical convictions. However, the Department of Health says even if a child is exempt from immunizations, he or she may still be excluded from school if there is an outbreak of a preventable disease. 

Credit: PA Department of Health

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