NC school students have longer to get vaccines because of Hurricane Florence

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State health officials have suspended immunization requirements for all students entering North Carolina schools and all children entering daycare to allow families to deal with disruptions caused by Hurricane Florence.

Under state law, all students attending pre-kindergarten through 12th grade, community college and public or private university for the first time must show they have received required immunizations by their 30th day of school.

But under an order this week by State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, the period from Sept. 21 and Nov. 1 will not count toward any child’s first 30 days, meaning all students have until Dec. 1 to provide the documentation.

N.C. Department of Health and Human Services spokeswoman Kelly Haight said Friday the deadline is being extended to accommodate families who may have been displaced by Hurricane Florence, which hit the state Sept. 14, or by the flooding that followed the storm.

Haight said some immunization clinics that had been scheduled were canceled because of Florence, and it would take time for families to get their children to rescheduled clinics or to doctors who could administer the shots.

Some families also may have lost their children’s immunization records as a result of the flooding. In addition, Haight said, some doctors’ offices may have lost power as a result of the storm, and vaccines not kept at proper temperatures would no longer be usable.

Except for medical and religious exemptions, all students entering school in the state are now required to be vaccinated at different ages against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, Haemophilus influenza type B, hepatitis B, chicken pox, pneumococcal disease and bacterial meningitis.

The announcement by DHHS follows Gov. Roy Cooper’s disaster declaration for the state on Sept. 7, ahead of Hurricane Florence, and his executive order issued Wednesday suspending certain health assessment, immunization and reporting requirements because of to the impact of the storm.

Most students entering North Carolina schools are vaccinated by the time they enter kindergarten. About 115,000 new students enter kindergarten in the state each year.

Staff writer T. Keung Hui contributed to this report.