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School Vaccinations

School vaccinations have always been a key part of maintaining school safety. They protect our children from a variety of dangerous diseases. Vaccine-preventable diseases can easily spread, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In settings like schools and childcare facilities, this is especially true.

In all 50 states, parents are required to ensure their school-aged children get these vaccines. They must do this before starting school. Public schools and state-licensed childcare centers need these vaccinations. Family daycare homes, developmental centers, and private schools may also need them.

Schools must enforce immunization requirements. This rule is based on recommendations from the CDC and other healthcare officials. They also must maintain records on all enrolled children and submit reports to the local health department. Enforcement varies widely among states. Generally, if students don't get their required vaccinations, they cannot attend school.

This article briefly overviews school vaccination laws.

School Vaccination Laws

Each U.S. state has its own immunization laws. These laws mandate children to have certain vaccines. They must have these vaccinations before they can enroll in K-12 schools. Childcare facilities might also need them. These laws help reduce the spread of communicable diseases among school districts.

Specific vaccination requirements vary from state to state. Still, most states need children to have proof they have received the following:

  • Poliovirus vaccine (IPV)
  • Two doses of the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine (MMR)
  • Three doses of hepatitis vaccine (HBV) (includes vaccination against hepatitis B)
  • Two doses of the varicella (chicken pox) vaccine
  • A booster dose of diphtheria, tetanus (lockjaw), acellular, and pertussis vaccine (DtaP)

Children 11 years or older and entering the sixth grade need proof of all of these immunizations. At this age, children also need proof of receiving the meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine. They also usually need the tetanus diphtheria acellular pertussis vaccine (Tdap). Many states have also added the COVID-19 vaccine to their list of immunization requirements.

Reasons for School Vaccination Laws

School vaccination laws help maintain the health and safety of all students. They protect students, especially adolescents, from dangerous vaccine-preventable diseases. These diseases can cause serious health problems or even death. By requiring vaccines, we can reduce or end the spread of many infectious diseases.

Advocates also have cited other reasons for requiring school-entry vaccinations. They argue that they contribute to higher school attendance rates. They also argue that vaccinations lower the occurrence of illnesses and diseases in families.

Exemptions From School Vaccination Requirements

There are some exemptions to vaccinations available to students. These vary by state law but typically include medical, religious, and philosophical exemptions. It's important to note that exemptions do not guarantee safety from diseases. Unvaccinated children are at a higher risk of contracting and spreading these diseases.

Depending on the state, students may get an exemption from immunizations in the form of:

  • Medical exemption: All states allow medical exemptions to school vaccinations. A physician generally will determine them. But California now gives public health officials the final say on these waivers. This may occur when a doctor determines that a child is allergic to some vaccine components. Or the child might have an immune deficiency. A parent claiming medical exemption must submit a written statement. This statement must document the medical exemption.
  • Personal belief or religious exemption: Many states offer religious immunization exemptions. Parents or guardians may request this exemption. They might do this if the immunization is contrary to their religious beliefs.
  • Philosophical exemption: Less than half of the states offer philosophical exemptions. These exemptions allow parents to opt out of vaccinations. They might do this if they believe the immunization is unsafe, not needed, or ineffective.

Parents should not claim exemptions to immunization for their children because of convenience. Research shows that immunized students are at a lower risk of contracting diseases. They also help reduce the spread to their families, schools, and communities.

Here is a list of states with exemptions from school immunization requirements.

What Parents Should Know

Parents should know the vaccination requirements for their child's current school year. The Department of Health and the CDC provide more resources. Each has an FAQ to help parents understand these requirements. Pediatric healthcare professionals can also provide guidance on vaccinations, school health, and outbreaks.

Parents of school-aged children should take steps to help keep them safe at school. They can do this by keeping their own children vaccinated. This can also help protect other children and family members from getting sick. Most schools will need parents to submit proof of updated immunizations. If their records of immunization are not produced, the child may not be able to attend school. As a result, parents should contact their child's doctor. They should ask for copies of their immunization records.

Suppose a parent can't submit proof of updated immunization information. In this situation, the child may need to be re-vaccinated. The parent can then submit this updated immunization record to the school district. Suppose you would like to get an exemption from immunization requirements. Parents or guardians should make a written request. This request should be to their state's health services department. There is usually an immunization branch. They should include the child's name, date of birth, and reason for the request.

Some states have laws that require parents or guardians to get more information before applying for an exemption. They need to hear the benefits and risks of vaccinations from a licensed healthcare provider.

Getting Legal Help With Vaccination Issues

Parents and state school administrators may have questions about immunization laws. You may need help addressing issues related to these mandates. Legal help can be sought through various initiatives. Local or state health organizations or the U.S. Department of Education can help. Possible referrals from local bar associations can also help. Talk to an education lawyer in your area who can explain your legal rights today.

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