Student immunization deadline looming

State law requires children be pulled from school without immunizations

By Kevin Spradlin

ROCKINGHAM — In her 20 years of being a social worker, Tuesday was the first time in Evonne Moore’s experience that a parent requested a religious exemption for the child from the required vaccinations.

vaccineState law requires that kindergarteners and sixth-graders receive certain vaccinations. Kindergartners are required to have a host of vaccinations, including measles, mumps, rubella, polio and Dtap — diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis. Sixth-graders are required to get a booster dose of the Tdap vaccine. State law mandates all public school students be vaccinations prior to the 30th calendar day after the school year begins.

Richmond County Schools began the 2014-15 academic year on Aug. 25; the 30th day, Sept. 23, is just around the corner.

“On the 30th day, if the child has not received the vaccine, the child has to be taken out of school until they receive it,” Tommy Jarrell, director of the Richmond County Health Department, told health department employees and members of the recently consolidated Richmond County Health and Human Services Advisory Board.

Jarrell said the vaccines are free for many county students. But even for those who must pay, “that doesn’t take away the requirement,” Jarrell said. “Probably 95 percent get it free. There’s still about that 5 or 7 percent that will have to pay for that vaccine.”

“We don’t want to see children put out of school,” Jarrell said. “The school system has been working closely with those few children who have not received their vaccine. There’s going to come that 30th day, as it does every year, there’s still going to be that group … going to be taken out of school. Unfortunately they’re going to remain out of school until they receive that vaccine.”

Jarrell said parents can take their children to their pediatrician for the vaccine or to the health department.

“Have we had many issues with parents,” asked Emma Ellerbe, who fills a community member-at-large seat on the board.

Moore, who works in four county schools, said the request came today from a parent. She was in touch with the father because the student has already missed five days of school. The father brought up objecting to the vaccinations on religious grounds. Moore directed the father to talk with the school nurse about the issue.

Jarrell said it’s not an issue that comes up often in Richmond County. Some parents have a personal opinion or philosophy against vaccinations, he said.

“We’ve been hearing the story about autism for years and years,” he said. “Nobody’s ever proven (a link between autism and vaccinations). Some people if they hear it on TV, it’s the gospel. We have to counter dealing with that.”

The law doesn’t exempt a child from the vaccination requirement due only to a parent’s personal object. State law allows only two reasons for exemption. One is for medical purposes, in situations that “a required immunization is or may be detrimental to a person’s health.”

Then, Jarrell said, “there is a religious exemption, but it’s not easy to qualify. You can’t just say it’s against my religion to take my vaccine.”

Actually, it might be just that easy. North Carolina General Statute 130A-157 states that “if the bona fide religious beliefs of an adult or the parent, guardian or person in loco parentis of a child are contrary to the immunization requirements contained in this part, the adult or the child shall be exempt from the requirements.”

A parent or legal guardian must provide a written statement “of the bona fide religious beliefs and opposition to the immunization requirements.” Then, the law continues, “the person may attend the college, university, school or facility without presenting a certificate of immunization.”

The law continues:
“There is no form for requesting religious exemptions in North Carolina. To claim a religious exemption, the parent or person requesting the exemption must write a statement of their religious objection to immunization, including the name and date of birth of the person for whom the exemption is being requested. This statement would then be provided to schools, child care programs, camps, etc. in place of an immunization record. If a family is requesting a religious exemption for more than one child, a separate statement should be prepared for each child. Statements of religious objection to immunization do not need to be notarized, signed by a religious leader, or prepared by an attorney. They do not need to be submitted to the state for review or approval.”

Board members asked about immunizations in private schools and daycares. Jarrell said licensed daycare facilities were required to have children in their care up-to-date on shots. Private schools, meanwhile, are not under the jurisdiction of the health department. In addition, there is no one to enforce vaccination requirements for children who are home-schooled.

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