SPECIAL BULLETIN COVID-19 #121: Executive Order Extends School Immunization, Health Assessment Deadlines

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Governor Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 156 and State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Tilson issued a State Health Director Memo extending, but not waiving, North Carolina proof-of-immunization requirement 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. With health care visits limited in some cases due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students and families will have more time to complete required vaccines and health assessments.

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 Oct. 1, 2020. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) similarly extended immunization and health assessment deadlines in September 2018 during the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.

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. NCDHHS’ Immunization Branch offers comprehensive guidance on immunization recommendations as well as advice for families on navigating access issues during COVID-19, and is working with local health departments on strategies to increase immunization access.

NCDHHS is collaborating with multiple partners including the North Carolina Pediatric Society and the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians on an awareness campaign to help ensure that school-age children are protected from vaccine-preventable diseases. NCDHHS is also partnering with Community Care of North Carolina (CCNC), NC AHEC and others on the Keeping Kids Well program to increase well-child visits and immunization rates for Medicaid beneficiaries younger than 19 years old. Governor Cooper has proclaimed August Immunization Awareness Month in North Carolina to highlight the importance of immunization.

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 as well as Medicaid to cover recommended preventive services such as vaccinations at no out-of-pocket cost.