7 On Your Side Investigates: Do teachers face the same vaccine requirements as students?

NEW YORK (WABC) -- As schools around New York adjust to new vaccination requirements for students that eliminated religious exemptions from immunizations, Eyewitness News found the state Department of Health is not holding school staff to the same vaccination standards as students.

7 On Your Side Investigates began evaluating immunization requirements for school employees in response to repeated questions from parents.

In the US, states have varying vaccination requirements for students. Many states have similar requirements for healthcare workers.

For instance, in New York, students without a medical exemption must receive the measles vaccine to attend school.

Healthcare workers generally face the same measles vaccination requirement at work.

However, according to a DOH spokesperson, "The current public health law... does not cover employees (at schools). The department's authority is limited to the current statute."

In other words, the state can't say whether adults in school buildings are protected from infectious diseases like the measles, or require adults working in school settings to receive a vaccination.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Cathy Orofino, a mom in Suffolk County who held religious exemptions from immunizations for her three boys prior to the 2019/2020 school year, when state lawmakers eliminated the exemption in an effort to increase vaccination rates statewide.

She believes it is a double standard.

"It's extremely upsetting," she said.

The lack of uniform requirements for school staff is also concerning for parents like Petrina Gittelson, who believe in vaccinations.

"If hospitals mandate that their employees and volunteers be vaccinated even with the flu shot, then yes, I feel like the teachers should (be required to be vaccinated) because they have contact with children every day," Gittelson said.

Doctors recommend 95% of all people, not just children, be vaccinated to help prevent an outbreak.

"That is almost everybody," said Dr. Roberto Posada, an infectious diseases expert at Mount Sinai.

Eyewitness News took the issue to Sen. Brad Hoylman, D-WF/Manhattan, who has been vocal on the vaccine issue and recently helped pass the repeal of religious exemptions from immunizations for students in New York.

"Certainly it is something we should look at as we continue to grapple with the impact of this year's outbreak," he said. "I think the notion that you want to keep kids safe is our north star in this discussion."

Hoylman added that recent legislation has been focused on children because they were predominantly the individuals getting sick during this past measles outbreak.

He has also proposed a bill to expand the information available about immunization rates following an Eyewitness News investigation exploring immunization rates around the country and making that information available in searchable map.

Our investigation found not all schools, including public schools in New York City, were reporting school by school data to the state and were instead reporting by district or by borough.

Parents said they hope Hoylman does follow through and ask the state to consider implementing the same requirements for vaccines on school staff as it has on students.

"So that I know my children's health is safe as well," Gittelson said.

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