North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 234 extending, but not waiving, proof-of-immunization and health assessment documentation deadlines for school and child-care facilities. To ensure children are not excluded from school because of increased demands on health care providers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the order will give students and families more time to complete their required vaccines and health assessments. Vaccinations and health assessments are essential to protecting public health and should not be skipped or ignored.
The Executive Order is needed because increased case rates and viral transmission caused by the Delta variant has limited pediatricians’ ability to schedule health assessment visits. According to the North Carolina Pediatric Society, pediatricians are experiencing record levels of demand for sick visits due to viral illnesses.
"One of our top priorities, as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic, is keeping children in classrooms and offering extended time to complete these important health activities will help accomplish that goal," said NCDHHS Secretary Mandy K. Cohen, M.D. "Vaccines and well-check doctor visits help keep kids safe and are important for safeguarding public health in our communities."
To help alleviate pressure on the pediatric health system, the NC Pediatric Society strongly urges everyone 12 years old and older who is eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
"Remember, anyone under 12 doesn’t have the option to get a COVID-19 vaccine right now. They are relying on us to protect them by getting our shots," Secretary Cohen said.
The Executive Order and a State Health Director Memo issued by State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson will extend, but not waive, North Carolina’s current proof-of-immunization requirement deadlines for students enrolled in public, private or religious educational institutions, including child care facilities and K-12 schools as well as colleges and universities. The Executive Order also extends the deadline for each child entering a North Carolina public school for the first time to submit a school health assessment.
In typical years, proof of required immunizations and health assessments are required within 30 days of the first date of attendance of school. After the 30 days, children are to be excluded from school until the family provides documentation of requirements. This year, the 30-day "grace period" for all students will begin on Nov. 1, 2021.
To ensure children are not excluded from in-person learning and that vaccinations and health assessments are completed in a timely manner, the Order and Memo require families to provide proof of an upcoming appointment within the grace period.
Whether children are home-schooled or attend school in-person or by remote learning, they are required by state law to be immunized based on their age for certain vaccinations as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). School requirements are listed on the NCDHHS website according to school or grade level, as well as the requirements for young children who attend child care facilities.
Financial concerns should not act as a barrier to childhood immunization. The Vaccines for Children (VFC) program offers free vaccines to families who cannot afford to pay for their children’s vaccines (through 19 years of age), and federal law requires most private insurance plans including Medicaid to cover recommended preventive services such as vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost.
In order to be fully protected from vaccine-preventable diseases, children should receive all age-appropriate immunizations. For more information about vaccine-preventable diseases and recommended immunizations, refer to resources from the CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. Parents who are unsure which vaccines their children need can find out by taking a short quiz on the CDC website.