HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – As students and families head out for new textbooks, clothing, and other school supplies, state officials are reminding everyone to add immunizations to their back-to-school checklist.
According to health officials, vaccine-preventable diseases, such as chicken pox, meningitis, measles, whooping cough, and others are still present in Pennsylvania.
According to officials, students in grades K-12 need the following immunizations for attendance: tetanus, diphtheria, polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), hepatitis B, and chickenpox. Children entering the seventh grade also need additional immunizations of meningococcal conjugate vaccine (MCV) and tetanus, diphtheria, acellular pertussis (Tdap). Students entering twelfth grade also need a dose of MCV, unless they’ve already received a dose at age 16 or older.
“Required vaccines can protect kids against measles, mumps, rubella, even polio and give them a safe environment to go forward,” said Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Denise Johnson. “We know that vaccine-preventable diseases have wiped out a lot of illnesses that have plagued generations of children. But our children don’t have to worry about that now,” said Dr. Johnson.
If students have not received the required shots by the first day of school, they have five days to receive what they need before risking exclusion.
“In addition to all of the things that the parents have to do to get their kids ready for school, we want to make sure that the kids are protected with their safe and effective vaccines, and that includes the COVID vaccines,” said Dr. Johnson.
COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory, but officials strongly encourage them for children five years and older.
“This is an opportunity to get your children up to date on their vaccinations, to add the COVID vaccine for them and make sure that they have a healthy and happy school year,” said Dr. Johnson.
There are medical and religious exemptions to the vaccines. Officials recommend checking with your doctor or pediatrician to determine what’s best for your child and to see what immunizations are needed.
“We encourage all parents in Pennsylvania with school-age children to call their primary care provider or visit a vaccine clinic as soon as they can so their children can start the new year off without a hitch,” said Acting Education Secretary Eric Hagarty. “The Department of Education’s mission is to provide a world class education for all learners and one of the best ways we can do that is by ensuring all students are healthy and safe from viruses,” Hagarty added.
Officials say under the Affordable Care Act, most insurance plans, including those bought through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and Medicaid, are required to cover school vaccinations as a free preventive service without charging a copayment or coinsurance.
“As students head back to school this year, parents no doubt have many decisions and concerns to consider,” said Acting Insurance Commissioner Michael Humphreys. “Thankfully, the cost of school vaccinations isn’t one of them, as most insurance plans cover required immunizations with no cost to the consumer,” Humphreys added.
Officials advise parents to ensure the doctor, or provider they visit for the immunization, is within their health insurance plan’s network, or else they may be responsible for the cost.
Health officials say to call 1-877-PAHEALTH (1-877-724-3258) to schedule an appointment or receive a vaccination at a local immunization clinic.