On Friday, Sept. 24, NC Gov. Roy Cooper issued Executive Order 234 –  extending proof-of-immunization and health assessment documentation deadlines for schools and child-care facilities across the state.

The Friday press release states: “To ensure children are not excluded from school because of increased demands on health care providers amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the order will give students and families more time to complete their required vaccines and health assessments.  Vaccinations and health assessments are essential to protecting public health and should not be skipped or ignored.”

In addition to the required vaccinations for school attendance, state health officials added that the NC Pediatric Society “strongly urges” everyone 12 years old and older, who’s eligible for a COVID-19 vaccine, to get one.

The new Executive Order is needed, according to state officials, because viral transmission caused by the Delta variant of the coronavirus has limited the ability of pediatricians to schedule health assessment visits. State health officials noted that, according to the NC Pediatric Society, pediatricians are currently seeing record demand for visits due to viral illnesses.

Typically, proof that a student has received requied immunizations and health assessments is needed within 30 days from the time a student first attends school. After that, the student is kept out of school until school officials see documentation that the requirements have been met..

This year, instead, the 30-day “grace period” for all students will begin on Nov. 1, 2021.

In a prepared statement, NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the extension was needed this year.

“One of our top priorities as we continue to fight the COVID-19 pandemic is keeping children in classrooms and offering extended time to complete these important health activities will help accomplish that goal. Vaccines and well-check doctor visits help keep kids safe and are important for safeguarding public health in our communities.”

The Executive Order – along with a State Health Director Memo issued by State Health Director Dr. Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson – extends, but doesn’t eliminate proof-of-immunization requirements for students enrolled in public, private or religious schools, as well as childcare facilities.

The order and the memo require families to provide proof of an upcoming appointment within the grace period.

Also, you can’t use cost as an excuse for not getting kids vaccinated. The Vaccines for Children program offers free vaccines to those 19 years of age and younger who’s families can’t afford them – and federal law requires that most private insurance plans, including Medicaid, cover at no out-of-pocket cost recommended preventive services such as vaccinations.