Why School Vaccine Requirements are Important

group of kids sitting in classroom

School vaccine requirements are not new. Since the 1850s, vaccination requirements for students have been in place in one form or another; by 1977, all fifty states had mandates.

These requirements are in place to protect children from vaccine-preventable diseases in schools where the potential for transmission is higher due to their close proximity in classrooms and at lunch tables. If a highly contagious disease erupted in a school with unvaccinated children, the consequences would be severe and potentially deadly. 

Because more than 90% of America’s children are vaccinated, most of the diseases on the recommended immunization schedule are now rare in the U.S., a testament to how well vaccines work. Thanks to these requirements, most children will never experience the discomfort or lasting effects vaccine-preventable diseases can cause. 

  • Diphtheria can lead to difficulty breathing, paralysis, heart failure, and even death.
  • Measles is highly contagious, can lead to brain swelling and seizures, cause deafness and disability, and can be deadly.
  • Mumps spreads easily among the unvaccinated. It can cause puffy cheeks, a tender, swollen jaw, fever, and head and muscle aches. 
  • Pertussis, or Whooping Cough, can cause a severe, long-lasting cough. Babies are most at risk; if they contract Pertussis, they can stop breathing. 
  • Polio usually begins with flu-like symptoms and causes muscle pain and weakness, but it can lead to severe problems like meningitis and paralysis. It can even cause paralysis 15-40 years later, a condition known as post-polio syndrome.
  • Rubella, also known as German measles, causes headaches, a rash, and pink eye. 
  • Tetanus can cause tightening of the jaw, painful muscle stiffness, breathing difficulty, and seizures.
  • Varicella, the technical term for Chickenpox, causes itchy bumps. Besides the discomfort, Chickenpox can lead to infection of the lungs, swelling of the brain, and it can even be deadly.

Ensuring that students are vaccinated also protects community immunity. When enough people in a community are vaccinated, they provide a shield of protection for those who cannot be vaccinated due to their age or health condition. 

The CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) establishes the recommended vaccine schedule and determines when vaccines are due. However, they do not have the power to require them; each state decides that. 

If you have questions or concerns about vaccines, please speak with a healthcare provider. 

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