As the new academic year approaches, school enrollment packages are being sent to families across the U.S. Unfortunately, misinformation about state vaccine laws and the legal right to take vaccine exemptions continues to circulate in many states. Parents and students are challenged to be proactive in seeking out accurate information to inform their vaccine choices and a good place to start is the website of the National Vaccine Information Center at NVIC.org.
When enrolling my children into school many years ago, the ability to take a vaccine exemption for my children was not hidden from me, nor was it questioned when I filed one. Today, the climate is very different. Federal vaccine policy recommendations and aggressive mandatory vaccination lobbying campaigns in the U.S. and globally have sought to eliminate religious and conscientious or personal/philosophical belief exemptions from vaccine laws1 2 and restrict medical exemptions to narrow CDC-approved contraindications to vaccination.3
Whether or not you choose to vaccinate, understanding student exemption and vaccine requirements beforehand will help you complete these enrollment forms.
Understanding Your State’s School Vaccine Requirements
NVIC receives numerous inquiries about school vaccine requirements and exemptions throughout the year, but especially during this time of year. Vaccine requirements and exemptions vary from state to state because, while the federal government makes national vaccine use recommendations, each state’s legislature has the authority to make vaccine laws that do or do not contain certain types of exemptions.
State law also defines “school” and whether or not vaccination requirements for school aged children apply to public and private schools and colleges, as well as daycare facilities. These state laws also dictate how often and where information about the vaccination status of school children, including the filing of vaccine exemptions, is submitted. These laws may also impact student federal privacy rights.
Know the Difference Between Vaccine Requirements vs. Recommendations
The most common experience that parents or students share with NVIC’s counselors is that a school official, doctor or nurse, public health official or daycare worker has told them that every single one of the 69 doses of 16 vaccines recommended by the CDC for children from birth to age 184 is required to be enrolled in school, daycare or college. The fact is that vaccine “requirements” are different from vaccine “recommendations.”
While some states and private educational institutions do require all or most vaccinations recommended by the federal government, the majority of states require fewer vaccines for school enrollment than those recommended by the CDC. Different states offer various types of vaccine exemptions for school attendance and, depending upon specific language in a state’s vaccine law, how and for what reasons those exemptions are valid varies from state to state.
NVIC’s website features a state vaccine exemption map and information on state vaccine laws on the State Law and Vaccine Requirements page.
Be Aware of Changes in Medical Exemptions
If your state has adopted CDC’s vaccine contraindication and medical exemption criteria, a medical exemption you were granted in previous years may no longer be valid. The introduction of legislation5 in states to adopt the CDC’s narrow criteria, which consider few health conditions or even previous vaccine reactions as a contraindication to vaccination, is of great concern to many parents with children who may be at high risk for suffering a vaccine reaction or are already vaccine injured.
Current CDC-approved vaccine contraindications do not take into account significant gaps in vaccine safety science that have been acknowledged in reports published by the Institute of Medicine between 1991 and 2012, including the fact that there are individual susceptibilities predisposing some individuals to vaccine injury and death.6 When state vaccine laws take away the legal right of a doctor to exercise professional judgment and conscience when giving a child a medical vaccine exemption that does not strictly follow CDC contraindications, it interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and the duty of physicians to “first, do no harm.” These kinds of restrictive vaccine laws also discriminate against children at higher risk for suffering vaccine reactions.
Prepare Children to Make Good Choices
Historically, it has been the role of parents to safeguard the health of and make medical care decisions for their minor children until they reach adulthood. However, conversations about vaccines may already be taking place in your child’s classroom based on incomplete and unbalanced information that devalues parental rights and the human right to informed consent to medical risk-taking.7 8 9 10 Laws already have been passed in some states and are being proposed in other states to allow minors to agree to receive vaccines without a parent’s knowledge or consent.11
It is never too early to find out how your child’s school handles vaccination and to proactively create opportunities at home for talking about what you and your child can do if there is pressure placed upon your child in the school setting to get vaccinated without your knowledge or consent. Before they become adults, it is important to share information about their personal and family health history, including reactions to drugs and vaccines, and emphasize the need to make well considered medical and other health decisions.12 Teaching children about how to identify quality health information resources so they can learn how to exercise their informed consent rights is an important skill that prepares children for adulthood.
NVIC is a Trusted Vaccine Information Resource
NVIC has provided well-referenced information on vaccines, diseases, state vaccine requirements and exemption information on our website for 25 years. Currently, the state law pages on NVIC.org contain “back to school” information that is being updated to include the most current state law vaccine requirements.
Following are helpful tips and links to navigate the school enrollment process and you can find additional information in the Frequently Asked Questions FAQ section of NVIC’s website.
- Be aware of the difference between a legal vaccine requirement and a recommendation to prevent being bullied and coerced into receiving or giving your minor child vaccines without true informed consent.
- Research the state vaccine requirements and exemption laws (day care, K-12, college, private educational institution) to understand requirements and exemption options and how they apply to you.
- Research whether or not your state allows exemption from vaccination, or revaccination, if there is serological proof of immunity.
- If dealing with a private business or institution that is not required to follow state vaccine laws, obtain written documentation of what the institution’s vaccine policy is to prevent bullying and coercion in private settings.
- Understand the basics of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and implications of student vaccine information being transferred into your state’s vaccine registry tracking system. To learn more about registries and FERPA, read NVIC’s article - title/link.
As you fill out student enrollment paperwork, we hope you find these resources valuable. Please share them with family and friends who are also looking for accurate vaccine information.
Navigating College Vaccine Requirements
As children graduate from high school and prepare to enroll in college, the decision about whether or not to vaccinate becomes their legal right and responsibility. Some of the first health decisions made by young adults are vaccine decisions related to college admission, with meningococcal vaccine being a focus of discussion with incoming freshmen. NVIC’s website provides reliable information on our diseases and vaccine pages for adults, as well as parents of minor children, and can assist young adults navigating through the challenges that come with making medical and other major decisions for the first time.
In addition to the tips above, my family found it helpful during the college admissions process to proactively:
- Research the state’s vaccine law requirements and allowable exemptions.
- Ask the college Admissions office for the school’s official vaccination policy in writing, if it is not already posted on the school’s website.
- Find out if there are study courses, such as nursing or other medical programs, that require vaccination for enrollment and graduation.
It is better for students to have this information before choosing which college to attend, so that there are no surprises when they go through campus orientation.
Report Harassment and Protect Human Rights
If you have personally experienced bullying or harassment for making an independent decision about vaccination that may not conform to what your doctor or someone else tells you to do, you are not alone. We hope you will consider sharing your experience with NVIC on our Cry For Vaccine Freedom Wall. By sharing your experience with NVIC public awareness increases on why it is so important to protect informed consent rights in vaccine policies and laws.
NVIC respects your privacy. When you share these experiences on NVIC’s website, you control how you want your personal experience shared with the public. You can also read first hand experiences that NVIC has been given permission to share with the public on our Cry For Vaccine Freedom Wall.
Stay Up-to-Date on Vaccine Requirements and Exemption Changes
State laws and rules on vaccine requirements and exemptions change and NVIC provides current information on our websites so that you can stay up-to-date.
For example, some state laws permit health departments to add new vaccine requirements through administrative rule changes. These types of changes don’t require a legislature to vote to approve them. In many states changes to school vaccine exemptions are subject to the state’s legislative process and legislation is introduced that legislators must vote on.
As reported by NVIC, there are continued lobbying efforts by special interest groups to eliminate all personal belief vaccine exemptions and restrict medical exemptions in every state. NVIC posts this information on NVIC’s Advocacy Portal, as well as changes in vaccine requirements and exemptions on our state pages.
The best way to stay up to date with what is happening in your state and protect your ability to make informed, voluntary vaccine decisions is to register for NVIC’s free Advocacy Portal. The Portal provides the public with bill information and analysis, and talking points on legislation to expand or restrict vaccine freedom of choice, and issues action alerts. It also makes contacting your legislator easy by providing contact links your legislators so that you may quickly communicate your concerns or support to your elected officials.
We hope you will use the information resources highlighted in this article to research and become knowledgeable about your legal rights when it comes to vaccination. Please join with NVIC in protecting and expanding vaccine freedom of choice for children and adults now and in the future!
1 NVIC. New York Bill Removing Religious Vaccine Exemption Turned Into Law on One Day with No Public Hearings. July 2, 2019.
2 Fisher, B.L. WHO, Pharma, Gates & Government: Who’s Calling the Shots? National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Jan 27, 2019.
3 CDC. Table 3 - Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule by Medical Indication, United States, 2019. Feb. 22, 2019.
4 CDC. Recommended Child and Adolescent Immunization Schedule for ages 18 years or younger United States, 2019. Feb. 22, 2019.
5 NVIC Advocacy Portal. Bills to Watch. Jul. 23, 2019.
6 Stratton K, Ford A, Rusch E, Clayton EW, editors. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. National Academies Press: 2012.
7 Fisher BL. Why Is Informed Consent a Human Right? NVIC Newsletter June 28, 2019.
8 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
9 Nir E. Informed Consent. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy 2011 (Fall Edition).
10 Cohen J, Ezer T. Human rights in patient care: A theoretic and practical framework. Health and Human Rights Journal 2013
11 AMA Wants Minors to Get Vaccinated Without Parental Consent. The Vaccine Reaction. Jun. 13, 2019.
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