The Great Debate: Vaccination Requirements in Schools

All across the country, states are debating whether or not to make it more difficult for students and their families to avoid vaccinations due to religious or philosophical reasons. Unfortunately, at this time, measles has made a comeback and is causing a breakout throughout the entire United States.

In Michigan, a bill has been introduced in the state House that would make it a requirement in schools to post public notices about their students’ vaccination rates. A majority of unvaccinated kindergartners in at least 10 states were allowed to enroll for the previous school year without any formal exemption and poor or limited access in some other states is making it so children are being kept from getting inoculated against some preventable and contagious diseases.

Sentiments Among Officials

While the debate around getting school children vaccinated is still in its infancy, or at least the controversy around it is, experts are still saying that most students will ultimately get all their vaccinations required by state law. But data around the numbers of vaccination aren’t up to date or even trackable in some areas, making it hard for officials in schools to know where their students stand when being protected against diseases like measles.

CDC officials have been imploring education officials to make sure children get vaccinated, and state health and education departments issue reminders to all officials. But for school leaders, making sure to comply with state mandates that require school children be vaccinated in order to attend class can require choosing between educating students and keeping public health upheld.

Currently, all 50 states in the union allow students to receive some type of exemption from vaccinations for medical reasons. But it’s been a recent surge in exemptions related to religious or philosophical reasons. Since January of this year, the CDC has reported nearly 900 measles outbreak cases across 24 states, the greatest number of cases since the mid-90s.

State by State, Case by Case

In the 10 states where unvaccinated kindergartners lacking exemptions overruled unvaccinated kindergartners, only about 15,000 children were using exemptions compared to 27,000 or so who weren’t. States usually allow between a few days to a few months for students to get vaccinated, but officials who are in charge of the vaccination data for several different states have stated that no system is in place to check to see if children have caught up on their vaccinations.

After a grace period expires, barring a student from attending school can be hard to enforce as this would risk the student’s educational standing as well as their safety in some areas. In Pennsylvania, for example, the traditional eight-month grace period was drastically reduced to five days, all but ending it entirely. This has put more of a focus and more access to resources to the issue.

Other states like Indiana now require public reporting of kindergarten immunization rates by schools, and Colorado is offering more access to information for parents. The issue that school officials are trying to address is related to vaccine hesitancy, something believed to have been started by concerned parents leaning on vocal anti-vaccination idealists in a new movement. The idea is that some shots are unsafe despite overwhelming evidence to the opposite. This has contributed to rising levels of unvaccinated school kids across the country, but has also put a spotlight on limited access to resources in some states.

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