DOH looks to update immunization requirements for students

The state Department of Health will hold a series of public hearings next month on the Big Island to discuss proposed changes to the state’s immunization requirements for school attendance.

Ronald Balajadia, immunization branch chief for the Department of Health, said the hearings will allow the department to hear testimony from members of the public about the proposed changes.

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“The rationale for the changes is just to bring our rules in line with current medical practices,” Balajadia said last week.

Hawaii’s current immunization requirements were established in 2001, Balajadia said, and several newer vaccines have been developed since then.

For the most part, the proposed changes — which would go into effect in 2020 — retain the current immunization requirements, but add a handful of new vaccines to the required list.

In addition to the current requirements demanding six immunizations for children up to age 2, the new vaccines required for that age group would include vaccines against Hepatitis A, streptococcus, rotavirus and influenza.

The K-12 age group would be required to have the Hepatitis A vaccine as well, but also the human papillomavirus vaccine, the meningococcal vaccine, and a vaccine inoculating against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, commonly known as “whooping cough.”

The latter three vaccines also would replace the ones currently required for seventh-grade students, while post-secondary education students will be required to have the meningococcal and tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis vaccines, in addition to a chickenpox vaccine and two doses of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Balajadia said that the DOH will retain medical exemptions for children with compromised immune systems and for religious objections.

The proposed changes have provoked criticism by a minority of parents who oppose vaccinations for a variety of reasons.

The DOH encourages parents concerned about the possible side effects of vaccines to discuss them with their general practitioner or pediatrician, Balajadia said.

However, the changes will not affect how the Department of Education handles unvaccinated students. The DOE currently allows provisional entry to students without proper immunization records or exemptions, but will require students to complete their immunizations within three months or risk being removed from school.

Representatives of the DOE did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

After the December hearings, Balajadia said the DOH will need between 30 days and 60 days to sort through the testimony before reaching a decision.

The public hearings will take place from 9-11 a.m. Dec. 20 at the Hilo State Office Building in conference rooms A, B and C, and later that day from 2:30-4:30 p.m. at the West Hawaii Civic Center Meeting Hall, Building G.

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Written testimony can be submitted to the DOH by email to immunization@doh.hawaii.gov. The deadline is 4 p.m., Dec. 26.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com

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