2018-2019 Changes in Vaccination Requirements for Public Schools
by Ajay Giri, Action Utah Summer Fellow
Changes are incoming to the vaccination requirements for children attending Utah’s public schools. For the upcoming 2018-19 school year, students will need to provide proof of immunization for certain required vaccinations. If this requirement is not met, parents or guardians will need to complete a personal or religious exemption form or a medical exemption form.
These exemptions are not new. What is new is that in the case of any exemption, parents will have to take additional steps to allow their child to attend school. They will be asked to complete an online module that aims to educate about the serious risks of non-vaccination as well as the unlikely, but real potential side effects and risks associated with vaccines. If they are unable to complete the online education piece, parents can meet one on one with a healthcare worker from a local public health office. While parents attend to these requirements, students will be placed on a conditional enrollment for 21 days.
These requirements will help concerned parents dispel harmful myths about vaccines. Parents will have access to vetted information backed by rigorous data from research done with millions of research participants, all in an easy to understand format.
The rules still allow for parental autonomy regarding healthcare decisions that ultimately affect their children. They will also allow for parents who may want to immunize but haven’t had the chance to complete booster shots before school starts. In the past, parents in this scenario would have to file for an exemption, meaning that their child could attend school, albeit unvaccinated.
When compared to the rest of the country, the state of Utah fares extremely well in many health metrics, but we do not fare so well when it comes to immunization rates. For immunizations such as the measles, mumps and rubella combination vaccine, which was falsely implicated in the now debunked autism study, we are 42nd in the nation for coverage. This lack of coverage leads to a loss in herd immunity, which puts vulnerable populations who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons at risk for life-threatening illness.
In Utah there is variation on vaccine rates and applications for exemptions. A vast majority of exemptions are for personal, rather than medical or religious reasons. Utah and Summit counties, along with counties
in the Southwestern region of the state have lower immunization rates than the state as a whole. Indeed, the measles outbreak at Disneyland came to our state as two unvaccinated Utah County children got sick in 2015. Salt Lake, Davis, Tooele, Weber, and Morgan counties have higher than average rates of immunization.
The new rules should help improve the rates of vaccination, reduce exemption applications, and ultimately support the health of our schools and communities.