OLEAN — Cattaraugus County Health Department staff worked hard during September to follow up on new state vaccination requirements in the county’s schools.

With most county schools in the 99 % vaccination range, there weren’t large numbers of students with religious exemptions who needed to get vaccinations after the new law doing away with religious exemptions on Sept. 1.

The county’s estimated 500 students attending Amish schools will not be getting the childhood immunizations, Amish leaders told Dr. Kevin Watkins, county public health director. Health officials continue to encourage Amish families to get vaccinated.

The unvaccinated Amish children who may no longer ride school buses are finding alternative means to get to school and back — mostly walking or riding in a horse-drawn buggy.

The New York State Department of Health issued a 14-day delay to the requirement that all vaccinations be up to date for the start of this school year.

Students who had begun receiving their immunizations were allowed to remain in school. Health officials followed up on the immunizations to make sure students finished the series of immunizations.

Watkins said because Olean had the biggest population center, the city and surrounding area could expect to have the greatest number of religious exemptions. “We’re working with the state and school districts as well,” Watkins said. “Most schools were already very compliant.”

There is no question some children were taken out of school by parents and are being home-schooled because the parents refused to have their children vaccinated, Watkins said. Other parents who had religious exemptions have started to get their kids vaccinated.

“We have worked with families to get students vaccinated,” Watkins told the Times Herald in an interview Friday. “To be sure, there are still children who need to get updates” to their vaccinations.

“We were pretty busy in September, but it has slowed down,” Watkins said.

“We are trying to get a better assessment of how many parents may have pulled their kids and are home-schooling them,” he said. “We are not seeing a large number. It appears folks are adhering to the new rules and getting their kids vaccinated.”

Watkins said health officials continue to push back on unscientific claims by a segment of parents who feel vaccines cause autism. “We’ve debunked that. There is still a small segment of the population that will believe that non-scientific information.”

Watkins said the New York State Legislature had no choice but to eliminate the religious exemption because of the large role it played in the nation’s biggest measles outbreak in more than two decades.

The largest outbreak in the state was in Rockland County and New York City, where Hasidic Jews claimed a religious exemption to the childhood vaccinations.

Prior to Sept. 1, Ellicottville Central School District had a 1.2% religious exemption rate and Pioneer had a 1.3% rate.

Several schools including Archbishop Walsh Academy, Portville Baptist Christian School, Allegany-Limestone High and Middle schools, the Cattaraugus-Little Valley campus and Franklinville Central School had a 100% immunization rate.

The only remaining vaccination exemption is a medical one. It must be approved by a doctor.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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