Sanford, N.C. — Sixth graders face suspension from school if they do not have required immunizations by next Tuesday, according to a new state law.
All 12-year-old students must have a booster of the Tdap vaccine, which protects against Tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis, or whooping cough.
A state law, which went into effect Jan. 1, requires that principals suspend students whose guardians do not provide updated immunization records within 30 days of the start of school. The suspension is not a disciplinary measure.
"They'll be turned back home, and we're going to be calling parents, saying, 'I'm sorry, but you're child is suspended," said Mary Owens, supervisor of nursing for Lee County Public School system.
In Lee County, 150 students could be suspended. Those numbers rise to 3,300 in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, 1,200 in Winston-Salem and Forsyth County, and 1,000 in Alamance County
"It's critical that they be in school, but we have to follow the law," Oates said.
The deadline falls on Tuesday, Sept. 23 for Wake, Durham, Johnston and Cumberland counties and on Wednesday, Sept. 24 for Lee County.
Wake County health workers will give out Tdap booster vaccinations in 17 of 20 traditional middle schools Tuesday. Appointments with doctors can be arranged through Wake County Human Services; call 919-212-7000. Appointments must be made on or before Oct. 24.
Lee school officials sent warning letters to parents last week and will send out an additional batch next week. Officials said they have worked with the state health department to vaccinate as many students as possible.
"Whether they (parents) have forgotten about it or they think, 'Well, I'll do it sometime,' the date is looming," Owens said.
The immunization requirement changes reflect the growing threat of whopping cough, Owens said. Most children have not had a booster shot for that disease since kindergarten.
After several outbreaks in North Carolina schools last year, health experts realized that the standard 10-year vaccine does not do enough to prevent such outbreaks.
"We're finding there's not that lifelong booster we thought kids would have," Owens said.
The Tdap vaccine requirement also applies to 12-year-old children in private or home schools if it has been at least 5 years since their last Tdap vaccination.
Entering college students must also get the Tdap booster and two doses of the mumps vaccination if it has been at least 10 years since their last tetanus shot.
State law provides for two exemptions to the immunization requirements: medical reasons as determined by a physician and religious objections based on a written statement signed by the parents. Scientific, philosophical and personal beliefs do not qualify for the religious exemption.
Parents may also submit records showing that their children are in the process of getting immunizations.
The new vaccination law also requires kindergartners to to get two doses of the mumps vaccine, instead of one.