BUFFALO, NY (WKBW) — As you prepare to send your kids back to school make sure they are vaccinated. A new state law requires all students in public, private and Catholic schools from kindergarten through 12th grade to be vaccinated This comes after one of worst outbreaks of measles nation-wide in 27-years.
The Buffalo Public School District and a local pediatrician are trying to get the word out to families.
A refrigerator at Buffalo Pediatrics pm Delaware Avenue is filled with several different types of vaccines and pediatrician Dr. Rachel Kaufman is extremely passionate about getting your child immunized.
“As a mother, as a pediatrician, as a scientist vaccines are safe and effective and save lives,” Dr. Kaufman explained.
Kaufman says a tiny minority of her patient's parents do not believe in vaccines, some fearing unsubstantiated health risks, others for religious reasons, but under the new law, religious exemptions no longer apply – only medical reasons.
Dr. Kaufman is spending extra time trying to spread the word.
“I have held in my hands children struggling for life with diseases that are vaccine preventable and that experience has rocked me to rocked me to the marrow of my bones – small children, who abruptly can't breathe because of whopping cough or a child going stiff because of tetanus. It’s a truly horrible experience and it's completely preventable,” remarked Kaufman.
Kaufman said it is challenging because many people have “entrenched believes about this and the internet is full of noise.”
“It is my job to read every piece of relevant data on vaccines and stay up to date and I can assure you. They are safe. They are effective, and they are important for a healthy society,” Kaufman responded.
Dr. Kaufman also worries about the return of other diseases beyond the measles.
"If enough people decline vaccinations – polio could make a comeback and some of the diseases that worry me the most are not necessarily the the ones that are currently making headlines," Kaufman stated.
On is Rubella, which Dr. Kaufman says can be most harmful to pregnant woman and was eliminated.
"It is one of the substances found on this earth most likely to cause birth defects. In some studies, more dangerous than nuclear waste, the last major outbreak of Rubella in New York State left literally millions and millions of children with visual deficits, hearing deficits and developmental problems and we've eliminated it, which is miraculous. Women can be pregnant and can walk the streets knowing that this most dangerous infection. It's as scary as Zika, but rubella was ten times worse," remarked Kaufman.
We asked Dr. Kaufman what is that number one concern that those who opt out tell her. “Is it this fear of autism? Buckley questioned.
“Yes, I hear a lot of concerns about the fear of autism, but I feel like also I end up playing a game of ‘whack a mole’ – each time I explain my concern about one particular fear another fear pops up to take its place,” answered Dr. Kaufman.
The Buffalo School District is also trying to educate the families of more than 30,000.
“Any time parents call, and they have questions - we just provide as much information as we can or if our nurses don’t have the answers - directing them to the place to get those answers,” said Alex Handzlik, Supplemental Health Care.
Supplemental Health Care provides city school nurses. He and assistant superintendent of student support services, Tonja Williams, are working collectively to help families understand children must be vaccinated.
“Do you suspect that any student would be turned away?" asked Buckley.
“They would not be turned away for the first day of school because there is a 14-day period that we give families or New York State gives families to comply, so they will not be turned away on the first day of school,” Williams noted.
But even more challenging the district is trying reaching immigrant and refugee families to understand the new law.
“We've had letters translated into their language s we have cultural resource specialists that are housed over at our central registration site. So, they are able to help our new and incoming families to understand this,” Williams said.
If your child is 11 or 12 years old and never received vaccines. They could now need five to six shots to catch up on the new regulation. Click here to to the NYSDOH to learn what vaccines your child will need.
“I recommend anybody who’s unsure of which vaccines they may still need for the families – to reach out to their providers – or go to the New York State website or the Buffalo Public Schools website to get a list of those,” Handzlik stated.
“For the families that have made decisions to exercise that right for religious reason, we also understand that this will be very, very difficult for many of them, so when the parents come into schools, we want them to know that we are cognizant of this being difficult for them and we are going to help support. But at the end of the day – the district must comply with the law,” Williams said.
When you take your child for a vaccination, Dr. Kaufman says its best to tackle their fears of getting a shot. Dr. Kaufman suggests the following for parents and families:
- Be matter of fact – never use shot as a threat or punishment for a child to behave in front of the doctor
- Shots are not a punishment, but part of keeping healthy
- Offer coping techniques
- Allow child to bring a favorite toy to hold
- Watch a video of Elmo getting a shot
But as health care providers and school districts scramble to make sure everyone is vaccinated before the start of school in September, a court case filed by a group from the anti-vaccination movement in Albany is waiting for a judge to render a decision. They are opposed to the end of religious exemptions. During a court hearing before Albany County Supreme Court Justice Denise Hartman lawyers argued the new law violates families constitutional right to religious freedom.
7 Eyewitness has reached out to the New York State Attorney General's office for timing of a decision from the judge, but there is no indication of when a decision will be issued.
But because the new law still allows for medical exemptions, the New York State Department of Health issued some important regulations regarding the new vaccination policy. As of last week, physicians who issue medical exemptions for vaccines must complete a form approved by the state health department. The doctor needs to outline the medical reason(s) that are preventing a child from getting vaccinated.
Previously a physician only had to submit a signed statement to schools without having a document to back up the reasoning.