STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — More than 200 Staten Island children who had religious exemptions for vaccinations against diseases like measles could be banned from school in September unless they get their required shots under a new state law.
New York ended religious exemptions for mandated vaccines for students in schools across the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill in June to repeal religious exemptions. Unvaccinated students have up to 30 days after they enter a school to show they’ve had the first dose of each required vaccination.
According to the most recent available data from the New York State Department of Health’s School Immunization Survey, 0.32 percent of children in Staten Island public and non-public schools — which include public, charter and private schools — had religious exemptions and weren’t immunized against several diseases during the 2017-2018 school year.
An Advance analysis of the data found that about 229 Staten Island students had religious exemptions — of the approximately 71,744 total students in all public and non-public Staten Island schools. This means it’s possible that more than 200 kids on Staten Island won’t be able to go to school in September unless they receive required vaccinations.
The survey showed 0.27 percent of Staten Island students with religious exemptions in the 2017-2018 school year were in public and charter schools, and 0.05 percent were in private schools. There were no Catholic school students on Staten Island with religious exemptions during that school year.
The new state law, which is already in effect, was signed as New York City faced one of the largest and longest measles outbreaks since the disease was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000. As of July 22, there have been 637 confirmed cases of measles in New York City since last September, according to the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.
According to the Department of Education (DOE), letters and emails were sent home to families in June outlining the policy change. Children who haven’t had all required vaccinations must receive the first dose in each immunization series within 14 calendar days after the first day of school, according to the DOE. Within 30 calendar days of the first day of school, parents or guardians of children will also need to show that they have scheduled appointments for follow-up doses.
“Ninety-eight percent of New York City public school students are fully vaccinated,” said Miranda Barbot, a spokeswoman for the DOE. “We are working with the Department of Health to ensure all our policies are aligned to this new law, and we are communicating updates to families and educators throughout the summer.”
Non-public schools, like private and Catholic schools, are not exempt from the state law.
According to the School Immunization Survey, 95 percent of all non-public Staten Island school students were fully vaccinated in the 2017-2018 academic year. The remaining 5 percent who were not vaccinated included students with medical and religious exemptions.
To break that down even further, 96 percent of all Staten Island Catholic school students, and 93 percent of all private school students in the borough were fully immunized.
“Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of New York have always followed very strict immunization protocols, which are outlined for our families in our applications and handbooks,” said TJ McCormack, a spokesman for the Office of Superintendent of Schools for the Archdiocese of New York. “We would expect to see no real impact in our school communities in light of the new law.”
Under state Public Health Law, students ages two months to 18 years old are required to get certain vaccines in order to attend child care, public or private school. All children in child care through 12th grade must receive vaccinations for DTaP (diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis), poliovirus, MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), varicella (chickenpox) and hepatitis B.
If you think your child may be immune to those diseases that have mandated vaccines, your child can take a blood test by a health care provider to check for immunity. If the blood test shows your child is immune to any of these diseases, your child doesn’t need to get a vaccine for that particular disease. Have your child’s health care provider fill out the Review of Serology or Documentation of Varicella Disease form.
Medical exemptions are still allowed. If your child has a specific health condition in which a vaccine may be harmful, parents are required to have the child’s doctor fill out a medical exemption form.
The form must be filled out by a New York State licensed medical doctor or osteopathic doctor. Forms completed by a nurse practitioner or physician assistant will not be accepted. Medical exemption requests must be re-approved every year.