School vaccination laws exist to help keep kids safe at schools and to prevent the spread of chilhood diseases. In all fifty states and Washington, D.C., parents are required to ensure that their school-aged children receive the necessary vaccinations before starting school. This includes children who attend public schools or state-licensed child care centers, family day care homes, and developmental centers (and some private schools).
Based on the recommendations of the Center for Disease Control (CDC) and other health care officials, schools must enforce immunizations requirements, maintain records on all enrolled children, and submit reports to the local health department. While enforcement varies widely among states, children who have not received all required vaccinations or a valid exemption may be prohibited from attending school.
School Vaccination Laws
Specific vaccination requirements vary from state to state, but most states require children age four or older and who are entering kindergarten, pre-kindergarten, or daycare have proof that they have received a booster dose of the following:
- Poliovirus vaccine (IPV)
- Two doses of Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccine (MMR)
- Three doses of Hepatitis vaccine (HBV)
- Two doses of Varicella (chicken pox) vaccine
- A booster dose of Diphtheria, Tetanus (lockjaw), Acellular, and Pertussis vaccine (DtaP)
In addition, children who are 11 or older and are entering the sixth grade must have proof they have received all of the age-appropriate immunizations listed above, and at this age, children also need proof of receiving the meningococcal (meningitis) vaccine and the Tetanus Diphtheria Acellular Pertussis vaccine (Tdap).
Reasons for School Vaccination Laws
School vaccination laws contribute to the public’s health and safety. For several decades, public health officials have cited reasons for requiring school-entry vaccinations, including prevention of childhood diseases and outbreaks, higher school attendance rates, and lower occurrences of illnesses and diseases for families and others who come in contact with children.
Exemptions from School Vaccination Requirements
Some states grant exemptions to children based on medical, religious, and philosophical reasons. Depending on the state, students may request exemption from immunizations based on the following main reasons:
- Medical Exemption
All states allow medical exemptions to school vaccinations which are generally determined by a physician. This may occur when a doctor determines that a child is allergic to some vaccine components or has an immune deficiency. A parent claiming medical exemption from school vaccination requirements must submit a written statement documenting the medical exemption.
- Personal Beliefs or Religious Exemption
In every state except West Virginia and Mississippi, parents or guardians may have a child exempted from required immunizations if immunization is contrary to his/her religious beliefs.
- Philosophical Exemption
In less than half of the states, parents who wish to opt-out of vaccinations based on the belief that immunizations are not safe, needed or effective on their children can ask for a philosophical exemption.
As a general rule, 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 and spreading them to their families, schools, and communities.
For a listing of states with religious and philosophical exemptions from school immunization requirements, click here.
What Parents Should Know
Parents of school-aged children should take the necessary steps to help keep children safe at school by keeping their own children vaccinated and helping to protect other children and family members from getting sick. Most schools will require parents to submit proof of updated immunizations or face not being able to have their child attend school. As a result, parents should contact their child’s doctor and ask for copies of their immunization records.If parents are unable to submit proof of updated immunizations, their child may need to be re-vaccinated to get an updated immunization record.
For those wishing to obtain an exemption from immunization requirements, parents or guardians should make a written request to their state's Health Services Department, Immunization Branch, making sure to include the child’s name, date of birth, and reason for the request. Some states have also imposed new laws that require a parent or guardian to first receive information about the benefits and risks of vaccinations from a licensed health care provider. For more information on school vaccination laws or to discuss possible exemptions, you may wish to contact an education lawyer in your area who can explain your legal rights.