Vaccinating the county’s older citizens against COVID-19 is foremost on the minds of most Baker County residents these days.

But there are other inoculations that families must consider each year when the third Wednesday of February rolls around.

That is the annual exclusion date on which children are kept home from school if their shot records documenting that they’re protected from multiple diseases are not up-to-date. This year it’s Feb. 17.

Nancy Staten, Baker County Health Department director, said 165 letters were sent out last week alerting families whose children’s vaccination records were not complete. That included 60 letters that were mailed to students throughout the state, including some in Baker County, who attend online classes through Baker Charter School.

The charter school includes Baker Web Academy and Baker Early College.

Another 14 letters were sent to the Pine Eagle School District at Halfway and 17 to Huntington. None was sent to the Burnt River School District at Unity where all students’ immunization records were up-to-date, Staten said. The remaining 74 letters were mailed to families of students attending Baker schools.

This year, because of the pandemic, immunizations needed to update student records will be given by appointment only at the Health Department. There will be no special clinics scheduled for that purpose as there have been in the past.

The department moved from its former location on Pocahontas Road to its new office at 2200 Fourth St. in December. To schedule a vaccination appointment, call 541-523-8211.

Staten urged callers to be patient with the phone system, which is operating on emergency status, awaiting installation of a new phone system. Voicemail messages will be returned as soon as possible, she said.

“Call and have patience,” she urged those who need to schedule immunization appointments for their children. “We’ll get through it and we’ll have a new phone system and it will work.”

The Health Department will be closed Monday, Feb. 15, because of the Presidents Day holiday, but it will be open as usual on Tuesday.

Office hours are 8 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays, except during federal holidays.

“The school law is still in effect,” Staten said. “That hasn’t changed because of COVID.

“We strongly encourage parents to keep their kids up-to-date on their immunizations, especially in the pandemic,” she said.

Staten said the Health Department has been working with districts since school started this year to ensure that as few students as possible would be excluded this month.

Students may be exempt from immunizations in Oregon either through a medical exemption verified by a physician or a nonmedical exemption based on personal, religious, or philosophical reasons. To qualify for the nonmedical exemption, parents may either watch an online vaccine education video and submit a certificate of completion to the school or talk with a health care provider and have the provider sign a vaccine education certificate to present to the school.

A bill has been introduced in this session of the Oregon Legislature seeking to eliminate the nonmedical exemption, which has been an option for Oregon families since 2016.

The Oregon Health Authority stated in a press release issued Wednesday, Feb. 10, that schools have the option of blocking remote learning access for kids whose immunization records aren’t up-to-date by Feb. 17.

Baker Charter School, as it has always done because most students do the majority of their studying online, will take that option, said Melanie Trindle, charter school executive assistant.

“Students enrolled in our school and not up-to-date get a letter, and we will block access to online classes until all records are updated,” Trindle said

That will not be the case for students attending Baker School District classes through online programs started this year because of the pandemic.

“We will still gather information and encourage them to get the vaccinations,” said Superintendent Mark Witty. “But since they’re online, the state’s not requiring us to exclude them if they haven’t gotten all their vaccinations.”

Staten said no one will be refused the vaccines based on an inability to pay. A $21.96 administrative fee is collected from those who are uninsured and cannot pay the full amount. If they cannot afford the administrative fee, the immunizations will be provided without charge, she said. The state pays the cost of the vaccine in those cases.

The Oregon Health Authority noted in a press release issued Wednesday that the COVID-19 vaccine is not currently required for children. In fact, the current emergency use authorizations from the Food and Drug Administration do not allow for children younger than 16 to receive the Pfizer vaccine and for those younger than 18 to receive the Moderna vaccine.

The law does, however, require all children in public and private schools, preschools, Head Start and certified child care centers to have up-to-date records on their required immunizations or to have an exemption.

“Immunization is the best way to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles,” Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator in the Oregon Health Authority Public Health Division, said in the press release.

“Just two years ago, we saw several measles cases in the Northwest. We don’t want another disease outbreak on top of COVID-19,” de Assis Matthews said. “Immunizations are the most effective way to stop the spread of measles, to keep kids and school communities healthy and safe.”

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