NVIC Vaccine News

Back to School – Preventing Vaccine Bullying

By Theresa Wrangham
Published July 24, 2018 in Government


It’s July and many parents and college students are receiving their enrollment packages for the upcoming academic year. Families are also making new daycare decisions, or renewing daycare agreements.

As a parent, I have filled out my share of school enrollment packages and then mentored my adult children so that they could make their own decisions during the college enrollment process and beyond. I’ve both seen and experienced vaccine bullying, and I know first hand the importance of understanding vaccine policies and laws that govern the enrollment process.

This article provides timely vaccine resource information to assist our readers during enrollment and to prevent families and adults from being bullied into making vaccine decisions that do not align with their values and beliefs.

School Vaccine Requirements & Exemptions

NVIC receives numerous inquiries every year about school vaccine requirements and exemptions. School vaccine mandates (requirements) and exemptions vary from state to state because they are determined by each state’s legislature. You will need to understand the laws of your specific state.

State law also dictates how often school vaccine paperwork must be submitted, to whom that paperwork is submitted, as well as how personal vaccine information is shared with a state’s immunization information system (IIS), more commonly known as a vaccine registry.

State vaccine laws can also vary on which settings the law applies to, such as day care, K-12, and college, as well as whether or not the law applies to private schools. In Colorado, for example, the school vaccine law applies to day care facilities and private schools. Understanding how your state’s vaccine laws apply to a specific setting is helpful when completing enrollment documents.

Vaccine Requirements vs. Recommendations

Sadly, one of the stories often shared by parents with NVIC is that they have been incorrectly told by a school official, health care professional, or day care professional that all vaccines on the CDC’s recommended childhood schedule are required for enrollment. Exemption information is often not disclosed in these conversations. 

While there are some states and private institutions that do require all federally recommended vaccines as a condition of enrollment, the majority of states require fewer vaccines than the 69 doses recommended by the CDC from birth to age 18. Additionally, most states offer varying degrees of vaccine exemptions. NVIC provides an overview of the difference between a vaccine requirement and a vaccine recommendation that many readers have found helpful as they navigate school and day care enrollment requirements.

Vaccine Registries Track Vaccine Status

As parents make their vaccine choices, it is also wise to consider how privacy rights may be impacted by these decisions.

Many states have a vaccine registry that tracks the vaccination status of school children. More recently, federal policy and state laws are expanding registries to include adult vaccination status.1 Registries are often populated by data gathered from personal electronic medical records2 that health care professionals are incentivized to use by the federal government.3 4

The majority of state vaccine registries are opt-out, meaning you or your child’s vaccine information may already be in your state’s registry, and if you do not want to share that information, you must opt out. Unfortunately, some registries only allow opting out of data-sharing, and your health department may retain your information even after you opt out. NVIC’s state pages link to each state’s registry so that readers can learn about how data is acquired, discover if their personal vaccine information is in the system, and find out what opt-in or opt-out options are available and what information is retained when opting out.

Federal Privacy Rights Trump HIPAA

Often overlooked, or misunderstood, in the enrollment process is the difference between federal privacy rights conferred by the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA)5 6 in the educational setting, and the “confidentiality” offered by state vaccine registries that are governed by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

FERPA protects records gathered by schools, inclusive of vaccine status information.7 Generally speaking, schools are prohibited from sharing personally identifiable information in those records without the specific written consent from the student’s parents or the adult student.8 However, not all schools are subject to FERPA and there are other exceptions that should be reviewed9 to more fully understand the privacy protections conferred by FERPA.

School vaccine information collected by other state agencies, such as the health department, is not protected by FERPA and may instead be subject to HIPAA.10 11 The primary difference between FERPA and HIPAA is that HIPAA allows information to be shared with third parties for public health related activities, without the consent or knowledge of parents and adult students.12 13 Again, we encourage our readers to take the time understand how data-sharing is governed under HIPAA prior to submitting school enrollment information to entities other than a school.

Additionally, NVIC is aware of tactics by state agencies, like those in Colorado, to circumvent FERPA14 through the introduction of legislation to change the law and allow health departments to gather school vaccine information for use in the state's vaccine registry. Abuse of authority and misleading families into giving their vaccine status information to health departments across multiple states has also been reported to NVIC. These types of activities are monitored on NVIC’s free Advocacy Portal to keep our readers informed on what is happening in their state and what actions can be taken to protect this sensitive medical information.

If you believe your FERPA rights have been violated, filing a complaint against a school is relatively easy, and must be filed within six months of the violation by the parent of the student, or the adult student.15

Any abuse of school vaccine laws should be brought to the attention of the agencies involved and copied to your state legislator asking for corrective measures. Please consider sharing this correspondence with NVIC so that we may further our advocacy efforts to protect and defend vaccine informed consent rights in your state.

Vaccine conversations unfolding in classrooms. 

More recently, NVIC has received emails from parents concerned about vaccine related curriculum being taught as early as elementary school.

Knowledge is power and talking to your child(ren) about vaccines is important, because the reality is that the vaccine conversation may already be taking place in the classroom, and it may lack balance and information on the ethical principle of informed consent.16 17 18 Mentoring children on how to identify reliable information and resources, and exercising their informed consent rights when making health care decisions will prepare them for the health care decisions they will face as adults.

College enrollment and getting information in advance.

In fact, some of the first health care decisions young adults must make are vaccination decisions related to college admission, with meningococcal vaccine being a focus of discussion for incoming freshmen.

NVIC provides reliable information on diseases and vaccines to assist young adults and parents who are navigating these waters for the first time. As college choices are weighed, many families have found it helpful to proactively:  

  • research the state’s vaccine requirements and exemption laws as part of college selection process; 
  • ask the admissions officer for the school’s vaccination and exemption policy in writing (should be on the institution’s letterhead), if it is not already available on the institution’s website; and
  • ask if there are programs, such as nursing or other medical programs which require vaccination.

It is better to have this information in advance of deciding which college to attend so that there are no surprises when filling out the college enrollment paperwork.

NVIC is your go-to resource!

The good news is that NVIC’s website provides the public with the information and resources necessary to navigate the enrollment process. In addition, please consider the following tips:

  • Be aware of the difference between a legal vaccine requirement and a recommendation to prevent bullying and coercion.
  • Research the state vaccine requirements and exemption laws for your setting (day care, K-12, college, private institution) to understand requirements and exemption options and how they apply to your situation.   
  • Research whether or not your state allows exemption from vaccination, or revaccination, if there is proof of immunity.
  • If dealing with a private business or institution that is not required to follow state vaccine laws, obtain written documentation of the vaccine policy to prevent bullying and coercion in private settings.
  • Understand the basics of FERPA and HIPAA and the privacy implications of your choices.

Vaccine requirements and exemptions change – stay informed

Some state laws permit health departments to add new vaccine requirements through administrative rule changes. There have also been numerous attacks on state vaccine exemption laws, as well as efforts to expand vaccine requirements.19 While vaccine mandates are determined at a state level, how vaccine requirements are implemented can vary.

The best way to know what is happening in your state and protect your ability to make informed, voluntary vaccine decisions is by registering for NVIC’s free Advocacy Portal. The portal provides links to contact your legislator, bill information and analysis, and talking points when legislation to expand or restrict vaccine freedom of choice is introduced so that contacting your legislator with your concerns is easy.

NVIC encourages our readers to use the resources discussed above, research and become knowledgeable of your rights, and join NVIC in protecting and expanding vaccine freedom of choice for children and adults now and in the future!


1 CDC. Percentage of private provider sites actively participating in a grantee

immunization information system -- United States, six cities, and eight Territories, 2009. Accessed Jul. 20, 2018.

2 CDC. Percentage of private provider sites actively participating in a grantee

immunization information system -- United States, six cities, and eight Territories, 2009. Accessed Jul. 20, 2018.

3 Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Medicare & Medicaid EHR Incentive Program.  Accessed Jul. 20, 2018.

4 Medical Records.com. Government EHR/EMR Incentives Information. Accessed Jul. 20,2018.

5 U.S. Department of Education. Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 (FERPA). Mar. 1, 2018.

6 HHS. HIPAA – Does the HIPAA Privacy Rule apply to an elementary or secondary school? Jul. 26, 2013.

7 HHS. HIPAA – Does FERPA or HIPAA apply to records on students at health clinics run by postsecondary institutions? Jul. 26, 2013.

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

9 DOE. Protecting Student Privacy – Frequently Asked Questions: Exceptions - Health and Safety Emergency. Accessed Jul. 13, 2018.

10 HHS. HIPAA – Student Immunizations. Sep. 19, 2013.

11 HHS. HIPAA – Does FERPA or HIPAA apply to elementary or secondary school student health records maintained by a health care provider that is not employed by a school? Jul. 26, 2013.

12 HHS. Summary of the HIPAA Privacy Rule. Jul. 26, 2013.

13 Torrey, T. Are Medical Records Private? Verywellhealth. Jun. 6, 2018.

14 NVIC. Colorado State Vaccine Requirements. Mar. 16, 2018.

15 DOE. Protecting Student Privacy – File a Complaint. Accessed Jul. 13, 2018.

16 Council of Europe. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Dignity of the Human Being with regard to the Application of Biology and Medicine: Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine. Apr. 4, 1997

17 Nir E. Informed Consent. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2011 (Fall Edition).

18 Cohen J, Ezer T. Human rights in patient care: A theoretic and practical framework. Health and Human Rights Journal 2013

19 NVIC. State Vaccine Legislation in America 2015-2017. Oct. 25, 2017.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with an *

Name is a required field
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter a comment.
5 Responses to "Back to School – Preventing Vaccine Bullying"
Commenter Name
Randolph Directo
Posted: 7/26/2018 11:57:00 AM
I worked the records department of Stanford U. main health clinic a few decades ago. I was told by the director that students who didn't get all their vacs didn't graduate. From my recollection, at least 50% of students back then did not have all of their mandated vacs. But I'm betting that when the right palms are greased with enough dough at Stanford U. that students DO get all their vacs - on paper.
Commenter Name
Patrick Harris
Posted: 7/26/2018 1:06:07 PM
My son is going into 5th grade this year in California. Sounds like he will need to be vaccinated before he goes into 7th grade unless the law changes. Correct? Editors Note: Unless your son qualifies for a medical exemption and if he is attending a formal school the answer is YES. See: https://www.nvic.org/Vaccine-Laws/state-vaccine-requirements/california.aspx
Commenter Name
Paul Thomas MD
Posted: 7/26/2018 1:27:27 PM
Thank-you NVIC for this important article. As a busy pediatrician at Integrative Pediatrics we honor informed consent and many of our parents are with us because they have vaccine-injured kids or do not want to vaccinate for other reasons. The pressures from schools and day care are endless and you are correct that most do not inform parents or students about their rights to vaccine exemptions. Parents: Vaccine mandates are forced medical care and should have no place in your child's life. Make sure that if you do a vaccine you are fully informed of the risks and benefits. Be aware that in the USA, our media, CDC, institutions of higher learning and scientific journals are unable to talk about or publish anything that would be considered to shed a negative light on vaccines. Read package inserts and think for yourself. When in doubt - Just say no. No to bullies. No to vaccines that have not been tested against proper placebos. No to vaccines without proper long term studies that compare vaccinated to unvaccinated populations.
Commenter Name
Posted: 7/27/2018 12:44:36 PM
Jeez, Louise & Theresa, do you wheeze to remember the days when "back to school" was pencils, etc.???    Then stores started packaging and driving up those prices.  I think today, most of America We The Poor People only make it, because the dollar stores and dollar menus fight bank/corporation-induced inflation.  When my kids were little, 20 years ago, Sears & Kmart killed us on what now is one buck.  AND THERE WAS A TIME when the sundries WERE MADE IN AMERICA.     Today, even our expensive & hardly-tested deadly drugs & unregulated industrial chemicals are no longer made here.  The rich let the foreigners kill the poor, in every sense.  Love that commercial, "We're settlers, dear: we settle for things."
Commenter Name
Tiffany Terry
Posted: 7/27/2018 1:02:09 PM
I work at a university and took my son on one of our tours a few years back. During their presentation, I asked about vaccine exemptions and was told, in a rather snarky manner, that there are no exemptions. Now that I read this I'm infuriated. I checked our school's website and it clear as day discusses the exemptions they allow. If your school tells you it's required 100% and there are no exemptions, GET IT IN WRITING!! And like Dr. Thomas says, don't let anyone bully you. I was always raised to know that my body is MY BODY. I know vaccines weren't what my parents/grandparents had in mind, but it's still true!! And as my pediatrician told me, you don't have to vaccinate right away. Do your research. If you decide that vaccines (at least some of them) are okay with you, you can always catch up later, but you can never undo one. Writer Note: Sorry to hear of your experience. It is experiences like yours that prompted me to write this article. I hope it helps many and will prevent bullying.
Make A Difference

NVIC is 100% funded by donations.

Connect with Us!

Ask 8 Information Kiosk

Explore FREE downloadable educational materials

NVIC Websites:
Opens in new tab, window
Opens an external site
Opens an external site in new tab, window