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Perhaps the biggest arena in the vaccination debate has been schools, and whether they're allowed to require children to be vaccinated before attending. The argument over vaccines may seem new, but the Supreme Court, all the way back in 1905, ruled that states and school districts can make vaccination compulsory for school attendance.
With the first day of school around the corner, here's what parents need to know about the vaccine rule, any exceptions, and potential liability for not vaccinating their children.
While the specifics of state education laws may vary, every state requires children to be vaccinated before starting public school. This overall requirement is based on recommendations from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and specific protocols set by states.
Generally, children four or older must be immunized for polio, measles, mumps, rubella (MMR), varicella (chicken pox), and others before heading into kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, or daycare. Once children turn 11, they may also need meningitis, tetanus, and diphtheria immunizations.
Depending on the laws in your state, parents may apply for an exemption from school vaccine requirements. Some states may grant medical exemptions, personal belief or religious exemptions, or philosophical exemptions. (Although you can claim and receive a religious exemption, trying to claim a religious exemption when you're actually more worried about health-related effects probably won't work.)
Some courts have also allowed school districts to override exemptions in the event of a disease outbreak and bar all non-immunized children from school.
People have been legally liable for spreading diseases before, especially where transmission of the disease was preventable. And considering the recent outbreaks in measles and whooping cough, it's possible that parents could be sued for not immunizing their children, if the children start or are part of such an outbreak -- again, your own state's laws will have a major affect on potential liability.
States also have compulsory education laws, meaning if you're child misses too much school because they are not vaccinated, you could be held responsible.
To find out how vaccine requirements work at your child's school, or to claim a legitimate exemption, you may want to consult an experienced education attorney in your area.