Vaccination clinics beginning this week will give students another shot at getting required school immunizations ahead of next week’s state deadline.
Five drive-through clinics are scheduled at the Pitt County Health Department to offer immunization appointments for middle school and high school students at risk of being expelled from school without required vaccines. To remain in school, North Carolina law requires students to provide proof of immunization within 30 days of when they began the school year.
Required immunizations for students entering seventh and 12th grades include vaccines to prevent bacterial meningitis and to protect adolescents from tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis. COVID-19 vaccines are not a requirement for students in North Carolina’s public schools.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the state delayed its immunization deadline for students in 2020, giving them until Dec. 30 to comply. Pitt County Schools Public Information Officer Jennifer Johnson said the district has not received word of a potential extension this year.
“We are hearing that other districts have requested,” she said. “We would hope that the state would consider some kind of extension.
“Currently we’re hearing that our doctors’ offices are really full with taking care of sick patients,” Johnson said. “We know it’s difficult for families to get in and get those appointments, especially those students new to kindergarten this year.”
Proof of more than half a dozen vaccinations, with multiple doses, along with a health assessment are required for students entering kindergarten. Kindergarten immunizations and health assessments are not available at the drive-through clinics, but the health department is offering other appointments for kindergartners.
Johnson said it is not clear how many Pitt County Schools students may be affected by the approaching state deadline.
“Because we are within the window of 30 days, we can’t assume (vaccination status),” she said. “They may have been vaccinated and they may just be waiting to turn in paperwork. Those numbers change on a daily basis.”
Johnson said that school nurses who work to ensure that schools have proof of vaccination for students are having to devote much of their time to COVID-19 cases, including contact tracing and contacting students who are quarantined.
In January, following two delays of the 2020 proof-of-vaccination deadlines, more than 400 of approximately 23,000 students in the district were not in compliance with the state immunization requirements. In addition, more than 200 kindergarten students did not have required health assessments on file. Most of the students who did not meet the 2020 deadline were enrolled as full-time virtual learners.
Johnson said students who do not meet this year’s immunization deadlines do not have the option to switch to virtual learning through Pitt County Virtual Academy. Unlike the 2020-21 school year, families are not permitted to move from in-person to virtual learning during the semester.
According to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services’ N.C. Immunization Branch, both in-person and remote learning students not meeting the deadline to show proof of immunization will be excluded from school until complying with the requirements. Johnson said a medical absence would be recorded for students not allowed to attend due to missing vaccines.
“This just really shows how important it is for our parents to schedule regular visits with a family doctor or with any kind of health provider and to keep up with the vaccination schedules,” she said. “Most of this could be prevented if there are regular well checks. (But) we’re offering extra clinics for those who have waited or are having problems finding an appointment with their family doctor.”
The Centers for Disease Control reports that teens across the country have been missing getting their required vaccines since the beginning of the pandemic. Vaccine orders for the meningococcal conjugate and the Tdap vaccines were down 15 to 18 percent in May 2021 compared with 2019, the agency reported.
The CDC had earlier cautioned that there should be a minimum interval of 14 days between a COVID-19 vaccine and any other vaccine. But that advice was reversed in May, with the CDC reporting that no interval was necessary and that COVID-19 vaccines could be administered the same day as other vaccines.
No COVID-19 vaccines will be offered as part of the health department’s drive-through clinic for middle school and high school students.
North Carolina requires children entering kindergarten to have vaccines for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, haemophilus influenzae type B; Hepatitis B, varicella (chickenpox) and pneumococcal conjugate.
In addition, there is a vaccination requirement for meningococcal conjugate for students entering seventh grade. A requirement for second dose of that vaccine recently was added for high school seniors.
The state requirements apply to students enrolled in home schools, public, private or religious educational institutions, including child care facilities and K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities.
“It’s just important that people know that the state puts these guidelines in place,” Johnson said. “As a school system, we are simply following the law.”