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State Health Department Announces Immunization Plan

October 9, 1991

HARRISBURG (AP) _ Pennsylvania health officials hope new regulations requiring measles immmunizations for pre-schoolers at day-care centers and nursery schools will slow the dramatic resurgence of the disease.

″We’re trying to do this to get immunization to a broad range of preschool children,″ Allen S. Noonan, acting state Health Secretary, said Tuesday.

The new regulations will force day-care centers, nursery schools, group and family day-care homes and federal Headstart programs to require immunization with measles, mumps and rubella vaccine for all children 15 months or older. The vaccine is provided free by the federal government.

An estimated 220,000 children in 8,000 centers will be immunized against measles, which during the past seven years has rebounded from near eradication, health officials said.

The Health Department said in 1983 there were three measles cases in Pennsylvania and 1,497 nationwide. But in 1990, the number statewide reached 552, and there were 27,672 cases across the country. Poor, inner-city areas are the hardest hit.

So far this year, there have been 1,439 cases reported in Pennsylvania and eight deaths. Nationwide, 8,352 cases have been reported. Officials say that half of this year’s cases in Pennsylvania are preschoolers.

Noonan attributed the dramatic increase to cuts in immunization programs in the 1980s and a widespread belief that measles had been wiped out.

The regulations allow a 60-day grace period for the immunization, starting at the Nov. 4 deadline, to provide ample time for parents who can’t comply immediately, Noonan said.

″Our intent, obviously, is not to remove youngsters from their childhood group settings, but to keep them in those settings protected from a potentially fatal disease,″ the secretary said.

The new rules require nursery schools and other facilities to keep immunization records of all children attending, and the agencies that license the schools will make periodic checks to ensure compliance, said Bob Longenecker, coordinator of the Health Department’s immunization program.

Health department officials will also make unannounced visits to check school files, Longenecker said.

State- or county-run health clinics statewide offer free immunizations, Longenecker said. Information about how to comply with the regulations will be available through a toll-free telephone number.

People who feel immunization is against their religious beliefs are exempted from the new requirements, Longenecker said, adding that such faiths account for only 0.4 percent of the state’s children.

Between December 1990 and March 1991, a rash of measles cases affected more than 700 people, many of them child members of the Faith Tabernacle Church and the First Century Gospel Church in Philadelphia. The churches shun medical treatment, including immunization. Eight people died.

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