NVIC Vaccine News

Back to School, Navigating Vaccine Choices and Holding State Agencies Accountable

By Theresa Wrangham
Published July 24, 2017 in Government

Theresa Wrangham

By Theresa Wrangham, NVIC Executive Director

It’s that time of year when parents receive school enrollment packages that include reminders of state school vaccine requirements. Many parents do not realize that most states offer exemptions for medical, religious or philosophical reasons. NVIC’s state vaccine law web pages are among our most highly visited web pages and our staff and volunteers work hard to keep them up-to-date with the most current vaccine and exemption information so that you understand your options.

For reliable facts helpful in evaluating vaccine and disease risks, our web pages on diseases and vaccines are an excellent resource for you as a parent, and for your college-bound young adult.

Click the image above to view full sized interactive map and state exemption information.

Updated School Vaccine Requirements and Exemption Information on NVIC.org

NVIC’s state web pages contain links to your state’s school, daycare and higher education vaccine requirements and information on how to obtain an exemption. Many parents use these pages to educate themselves on what is required and how to obtain a vaccine exemption for their children entering into public school.

The web pages also include vaccine related statutes, with links to the actual law, for each state that allow you to see which vaccines are legally required to help you decide whether to accept, delay or decline one or more vaccines.

Many parents question the need for, and safety of, vaccines,1 and sharing NVIC’s well-referenced information with others encourages educated vaccine decision-making. Information on NVIC’s website will also help you understand the differences between state mandated school vaccine requirements and the federally recommended vaccine schedule.

Navigating College Vaccination Requirements

College bound students face pressure to receive vaccines for meningitis, HPV, and influenza, among others.2345 Because most parents are no longer legally responsible for making medical decisions for their college age children, vaccination is often the first medical risk-taking decision these young people will make.

college choices

College vaccination and exemption requirements usually comply with the state’s vaccination and exemption laws for K-12, however, in some states these policies are left to the individual colleges to create. In addition, if a college student is going into a health or veterinary profession that requires clinical practice during their course of study, vaccinations are often required in order to complete coursework.

Don’t wait until enrolling into a college or university and/or health care related program to ask what vaccines are required for entry. Obtaining higher-ed vaccine requirements and exemption options in advance of deciding which college to attend can prevent post enrollment surprises. Parents can help their sons and daughters find accurate information and resources regarding vaccines and their risks, diseases and the frequency and severity of complications, and their child’s right to make voluntary, informed decisions about vaccines. NVIC.org is such a resource.

When considering different colleges, you can proactively ask the admissions officer for the school’s vaccination policy in writing (should be on the institution’s letterhead) and research the state’s exemption laws on NVIC’s state pages. Many prospective college students visit a number of college campuses over the course of several months, so it is a good idea to get a reconfirmation of the vaccine policy in writing prior to making final college decisions to prevent any last-minute problems.

Prevent State Agencies from Abusing their Authority

As you and your college student make vaccine decisions, it is important to not only understand your state’s vaccination laws but to also support the protection and expansion of the human right to make voluntary choices about vaccination.

NVIC has noted recent trends by state health departments to overstep and abuse their legal authority by making vaccine exemptions more difficult to obtain. This overreach of authority is often initiated by health departments through a rule-making process.

We hope you will get involved in protecting vaccine choices by becoming a registered user of the NVIC Advocacy Portal to support NVIC’s efforts to prevent abuse of government authority. You can make public comments during these rule-making proceedings, and send copies of your comment to your legislators as a way of informing them about how these regulatory changes affect you and your family. It is a way of building a relationship with your legislator and holding your state agencies accountable.

Holding State Agencies Accountable: The Colorado Experience

Holding state agencies accountable by monitoring and participating in the rule-making process is important, as was demonstrated in Colorado earlier this year when the health department attempted to force parents to use a state sponsored vaccine exemption form to circumvent federal privacy protections for students.6

While many states have exemptions forms, Colorado state law doesn’t require a vaccine exemption form to be used.7 Colorado’s Department of Education and the Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) issued guidance to schools to require parents to use an exemption form created by the health department, despite the fact that state law clearly required only that parents submit a statement of exemption to their schools (i.e. a hand written note). This is a perfect example of state agency overreach.

The health department also tried to mislead parents into uploading their exemptions directly to the health department for inclusion in the state’s vaccine tracking system. They did not inform parents that uploading information into the vaccine tracking system meant they forfeited their child’s federal privacy rights and that this sensitive health information could then be shared with third parties without parental consent.

Linking vaccination records--and exemptions--to a state vaccine tracking system, as is being attempted by Colorado, could easily become a common tactic in other states. These actions pose a threat to your child’s privacy and access to his or her sensitive health information. Now is a good time to review what kind of tracking system your state has in place and what your options are for protecting your child’s privacy.

In some states these tracking systems are also being used for tracking adult vaccination status, as implemented in Alaska, where participation is mandatory for both children and adults.

Working Together for Change

NVIC worked with Colorado legislators, like-minded groups and citizens, and the health and education departments to correct this overstepping of authority. NVIC also issued an action alert to Colorado residents via NVIC’s advocacy portal and citizen action, coupled with NVIC’s advocacy, pressured the health department to accept parent statements.8 NVIC continues to work to push back against other abuses by the health department.

Colorado is not alone in its overreach. Other states are likely to attempt similar strategies to force participation in tracking systems and make vaccine exemptions harder to obtain, or eliminate exemptions altogether. The state information pages on NVIC.org includes links to each state’s vaccine tracking system that can assist you in learning more about the type of registry your state uses and whether or not participation is mandatory.

Additionally, many states provide a way for citizens to sign up state registry notices on proposed rule-making and keep rule-making notices posted on their websites. NVIC’s state web pages now contain a new link to each state registry that allows you to learn more about proposed rule-making in your state and opportunities to receive rule-making notices.

Build Legislative Relationships Now When Your State’s Legislature is Not in Session

June through December is a good time to start building relationships with your state legislators. In many states the legislative session is over and legislators spend more time in their local offices and have more time to listen to your concerns.

When you make an appointment to talk with your state legislators, help them understand why the ability to exercise informed consent to vaccination with flexible medical, religious and conscientious belief vaccine exemptions is important. If your state agencies are exceeding their statutory authority by creating rules that are not legally required, tell your legislators about it and, again, don’t forget to copy your legislator and legislative health committees on correspondence you send to state agencies. One-on-one advocacy at the grassroots level is the most effective way to counter the abusive tactics by government officials exceeding legislative authority related to vaccine tracking systems and vaccine exemptions.

Click the image above to view and download the fully referenced guide: click here for the condensed version.

Registering to use NVIC’s free online Advocacy Portal provides you with direct contact information for your legislator’s email, fax or phone, as well as their Facebook and Twitter accounts. Using the Advocacy Portal and logging in often is a proactive step you can take to protect your rights and privacy by keeping up to date on vaccine related legislation introduced in your state.

Updated Guide to Reforming Vaccine Policy & Law Now Online

NVIC also just published online the revised and fully referenced and illustrated Guide to Reforming Vaccine Policy & Law. Authored by NVIC co-founder and president Barbara Loe Fisher, the guide provides a short but comprehensive overview of the vaccine safety and informed consent issue, including the history, science, policy, law and ethics of mandatory vaccination laws in the U.S. The guide is anchored with over 240 live linked references and you can use it as a “go to” resource when you have conversations about vaccination and protecting vaccine exemptions with elected officials like school board members, state senators and representatives, family, and friends. (The guide will also be available in print form in the fall).

Use NVIC’s website and the Guide to Reforming Vaccine Policy & Law to educate others in your community about vaccine risks, diseases, your state’s vaccine laws and exemptions, and to build relationships with your elected officials. These steps will help protect your rights and push back on state agency abuse of authority.

Working together, we can make informed consent to vaccination a reality we can pass on to our children and grandchildren.


1 Edwards, KM. Hackell, JM. Clinical Report – Guidance for the Clinician in Rendering Pediatric Care: Countering Vaccine Hesitancy. Pediatrics. Volume 138, Number 3. August 2016.

2 Riley, B. Back to School: Health District encourages families to get vaccines early. ABC 13 Action News. Las Vegas, NV. Jul. 12, 2017.

3 Get shots early to beat Back to School rush. Fox 23 News. Tulsa, OK. Jul. 12, 2017.

4 Brown, D. Do Kids Need Vaccines after Kindergarten: Parents, Pre-teens and Teens, Listen Up. Emporia Gazette. Jul. 18, 2017.

5 Kepka, D. Spigarellis, M. Warner, E. Yoneoka, Y. McConnell, N. Balch, A. Statewide analysis of missed opportunities for human papillomavirus vaccination using vaccine registry data. Papillomavirus Research. Volume 2, Pages 128-132. December 2016.

6 U.S. Department of Education. Laws & Guidance – Letter to Alabama Department of Education re: Disclosure of Immunization Records. FERPA Online Library. Feb. 25, 2004.

7 National Vaccine Information Center. Colorado State Vaccine Requirements. Page updated Jul. 14, 2017.

8 Colorado Department of Health & Environment and Colorado Department of Education. Joint Statement - School Responsibility and Immunization Exemptions. Apr. 12, 2017

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