North Carolina law requires that all incoming sixth graders receive the TDAP booster—the shot to prevent tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis—within the first 30 days of starting school. The deadline was last Wednesday and not all students were vaccinated, said Richard Lemke, principal of the Hospital School in Durham.
Lemke works closely with the Department of Public Health and the Durham public school system to provide parents and students with resources about vaccination. Durham public schools sent out many notifications to the parents of rising sixth graders both over the summer and during the first months of school, advising them to get their children vaccinated. However, there were still cases of students being suspended for missing the deadline in accordance with the law.
“We’re seeing reluctance to get kids immunized in families,” Lemke said.
The Durham Public Health Department offered on-site clinics at schools where some children could get vaccinated for free if their parents wrote a note. This service only applies to children who are not covered by insurance or were relying on Medicaid.
Lemke said that the service used to be free for all students until recently, when restrictions were imposed. He said he could think of reasons that people would not want to get their children vaccinated, but did not know what parents' actual motives are in refusing.
He added that the law allows for medical or religious exemptions from vaccination, which do not result in suspension for students.
Despite the suspensions, Lemke emphasized that the issue is not a major one and most students have no problem receiving the necessary vaccinations.
“We have not had too much difficulty in Durham getting kids vaccinated by the deadline,” Lemke said.
Many guardians are unaffected by the new vaccination requirements.
“We were always on an annual checkup system, so we never hit that wall,” said Donna Mutter, grandparent of a seventh-grade student.
Mutter said that although it is unfair to penalize students, more children would miss school if they were ill.
When asked whether vaccination should be mandated for children, Durham resident Kirsten Burkart said that while people should reserve the right to make their children's health decisions, they should not do so at the expense of other students in the class.
“You’ve got parents who don’t care, but you’ve also got parents who don’t want their kids to be vaccinated period—which is their individual right, but if their kid gets whooping cough, then you’re exposing a whole classroom to it," Burkart said.