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In less than a week, 5-year-old Zachary Murray will be running around on the playground of Wallace Elementary with his fellow kindergarten classmates.

The West Manchester boy is fully prepared for school to start, and his mom, Margaret Murray, made sure he had every tool he needs for success, including his vaccinations.

"I want to protect my kids from smallpox and measles and mumps and rubella," Murray said. "I don't want my kid to be the one responsible for spreading the mumps."

The Pennsylvania Department of Health wants to make sure all children are healthy to achieve success in school, and that includes getting vaccinated. According to the department, all Pennsylvania children must be vaccinated before entering kindergarten and seventh grade.

Exemptions: However, some parents still choose to not vaccinate their children. Exemptions can be given in Pennsylvania for three reasons: medical, religious and philosophical.

Medical exemptions are given when a doctor determines the risks of the vaccines outweigh the benefits it could bring for the child, according to state law. Religious exemptions are given when a person can't comply because of their beliefs. A philosophical exemption can be given on the basis of a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief.

Each year, the Department of Health releases information obtained from school districts around the commonwealth about the number of vaccinated children and the number and type of exemptions given in that school district. The data also includes information on the number of students enrolled in either kindergarten or seventh grade, or both when it applies.

York County has 17 school districts listed in the data The York Dispatch received from the Department of Health for the 2014-15 school year, which is the most recent data available.

Wallace Elementary School, where Zachary will be a student, had 80 children enrolled in its kindergarten class during the 2014-15 school year. Only two exemptions were given, according to the data, both of which were for religious reasons.

The West York Area School District, which includes Wallace, had a total of seven exemptions for the 326 kindergarten and seventh-grade students; two exemptions were for religious reasons, and five were for philosophical reasons.

Most exemptions: According to the Department of Health data, Northeastern School District had the most exemptions per capita. More than 4 percent of the 895 kindergarten and seventh-grade students had exemptions for vaccinations.

Out of 321 students registered for seventh grade at Northeastern Middle School in 2014-15, 21 had exemptions for vaccinations, or just over 6.5 percent of the student population of that class. Of those 21 exemptions, nine were for medical reasons, four were for religious reasons and eight were for philosophical reasons.

Eastern York School District had the second-highest number of exemptions per capita, at 3.56 percent. At Wrightsville Elementary School, five of the 50 students enrolled in kindergarten in 2014-15 had exemptions, or 10 percent of the class. All of these exemptions were for medical reasons, according to the health department data.

Fewest exemptions: York City School District had the highest vaccination rate in the county, with less than half a percent of students in kindergarten and seventh grade with exemptions. Only four exemptions were given in the entire district for the 844 students enrolled in those grades. Three were given for philosophical reasons and one was given for religious reasons.

Debra Stoops, coordinator of the immunization program at the City of York Bureau of Health, said the high vaccination rate in the city might be because of the frequent programs for vaccinations for low-income children in the district.

"There are a lot of kids who fall through the cracks because they don't have insurance or are on Medicaid," Stoops said. "If they're in the city limits, they can come to us and we can get them vaccinated."

The number of total exemptions per capita across York County decreased slightly from the 2013-14 school year to the 2014-15 school year, according to health department data. In 2013-14, 2.13 percent of students had exemptions, while in 2014-15, 2.06 percent of students had exemptions.

Getting vaccinated: There is leeway in there for parents, in case they have forgotten to get their kids updated before school starts. According to Pennsylvania state law, students have up to eight months to meet those vaccination requirements. However, Stoops said, it's better to get it done sooner rather than later.

The City Bureau of Health has two vaccination clinics coming up. The bureau will give vaccinations from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday at their office, 435 W. Philadelphia St. It will also give vaccinations from 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Aug. 31. Stoops said parents who are interested can call (717) 815-0910 for an appointment. Walk-ins also are  welcome.

For Murray, the idea of vaccinating her children was an easy one.

"It's the parents' choice, but they also need to think about the other children that are going to school with their kids," she said. "That's why I do it, not only for my children, but for the other children going there who can't get vaccinated."

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine.

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