RALEIGH — As children and teens head back into the classroom in the coming weeks, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is reminding families about vaccination updates.
“Vaccines are an essential piece of both child and family health and well-being,” said Dr. Zack Moore, state epidemiologist, in a press release. “We encourage parents and guardians to work with their children’s doctor to make sure their children are current on their childhood vaccines to prevent illness and reduce days missed at school.”
Vaccinations required for children entering kindergarten in public school systems include DTaP, polio, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella), hepatitis B and varicella. For 4-year-olds only, additional shots include Hib and pneumococcal conjugate. Multiple doses of the vaccines are required for this entry-level grade.
The same rounds of vaccinations are required for those in seventh grade, some of which require multiple shots while others only a single booster shot. In both seventh and 12th grade, a vaccination against meningitis is required.
The full list of grade-level vaccinations can be viewed by visiting the NCDHHS immunization website.
Last fall, North Carolina saw a surge of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases, as well as rhinoviruses, enteroviruses and influenza in infants and young children. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has added a new RSV vaccine for infants up to 8 months old; one dose of the drug nirsevimab.
According to NCDHHS, uninsured children up to 18 years old can be vaccinated “at low or no cost” through the Vaccines for Children program.
Last year, the CDC added the COVID-19 vaccination to the schedule of recommended early childhood immunizations.
Former CDC Director Rochelle Walensky admitted in a Congressional hearing that the only reason the COVID shot was added to the schedule was so uninsured kids could gain access to it.
“It was the only way it could be covered in our Vaccines for Children program,” Walensky told U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) during a hearing held on Feb 8, 2022. “It was the only way our uninsured children would be able to have access to the vaccines. That was the reason to put it on the schedule.”
Former NCDHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen has since taken over for Walensky after being tapped by President Joe Biden. Cohen was well known in North Carolina for promoting masking and vaccinations, a practice she has continued as CDC director.
In a July Spectrum News interview, Cohen told the host she anticipates COVID-19 shots “will become similar to flu shots,” given on an annual basis. That statement has prompted a letter from the Congressional Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Pandemic to Cohen inquiring about her remarks.
Currently, no public school students in North Carolina are required to receive a COVID-19 vaccination in order to attend school.
Last year, the N.C. Commission for Public Health (NCCPH) hit the brakes on requiring children ages 17 and up to have a COVID-19 shot, unanimously voting down a petition requesting the shot be added.
Housed under NCDHHS, the NCCPH and is the main body responsible for adding vaccinations to the schedule for public school children in the state.
The NCCPH also received a letter from top NCDHHS officials that called the addition of the COVID-19 shot “premature.” The letter was signed by NCDHHS State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, Mark Benton, the assistant NCDHHS secretary, and Dr. Kelly Kimple, chief of the NCDHHS women’s and children’s health section.
In January 2022, North State Journal broke the story on the petition that had been filed several months earlier by four Appalachian State University employees. The petition asked the commission to require a COVID-19 vaccination for “individuals 17 years of age or entering the 12th grade, whichever comes first, on or after July 1, 2022.”
In August 2021, after some discussion, the NCCPH members tabled the idea of requiring COVID-19 vaccinations for K-12 students across the state. The commission met again virtually two months later on Oct. 15. During that meeting, North State Journal captured audio of some of the commission members joking about what they referred to as anti-vax and mask “rhetoric.”
Following North State Journal’s reporting on the NCCPH, two bills were filed this session that would block forced vaccination of public school children in North Carolina.
House Bill 98, the Medical Freedom Act, would bar any state agency from issuing COVID-19 requirements or requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination records of any person, and it would prohibit public schools from issuing a vaccine mandate on students, faculty or staff. The bill passed the House and sits with the Senate’s Rules and Operations Committee.
House Bill 222, titled CV19 Vaccine Mandates for NC Students, would have specifically prohibited the NCCPH from requiring students to get a COVID shot “for any reason.” The bill wasn’t brought to the floor for a vote and is therefore not currently an active bill for consideration.