How to prepare for school immunizations

Heading back to school can be exciting for your child, with lots of new friends and experiences. But with the start of a new school year also comes close contact with other students and the easy spread of germs. So, as a concerned parent, how do you ensure your child is best protected? 

Organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommend immunizations for school-age children as a matter of public health and safety. 

According to the CDC, more than four million deaths are prevented annually due to childhood vaccines. Vaccines protect infants and children from serious illnesses by helping them develop immunity. Regular immunizations help provide community immunity to younger children or older adults in the family, helping them stay healthy.  

Let’s look at the facts about school vaccines and where you can get the required immunizations. 

What immunizations are required for school? 

All 50 states have school immunization requirements, but the specific vaccines required vary by state. Parents should check with their child's school to find out what vaccines are required for kindergarten in their state. 

Certain childcare providers may also require your child to have vaccinations before they can attend or possibly sign up for daycare. 

For example, five shots are required if your child enters kindergarten in Missouri. But if your child is starting school in Connecticut, count on getting nine shots, including booster doses, before school begins in late August or early September. 

Religious and philosophical exemptions to these laws exist in some states. You can inquire with your local health authority or school for more details. 

To ensure that their students and the larger community are safe, some schools and daycare facilities have taken matters into their own hands, requiring different vaccines than what is required by the state.  

If you are unsure what school vaccines are required for your child, it is vital to communicate with the school staff several weeks before school begins to ensure they have everything they need for a successful school year. 

 In the last few years, schools have begun to send children home for so-called "exclusion days" from school until their vaccination records are updated. This is a safety precaution for other children, as an unvaccinated child might be carrying a communicable disease, but this may mean your child will miss several days of school.  

Prep for immunizations with a school physical 

One of the easiest ways to ensure your child is healthy and has met your state’s vaccination requirement is to have a school physical before going back to school. A healthcare provider can review your child’s medical history and vaccine requirements. 

Why do kids need school physicals? 

Keeping your child healthy in the school environment sets them up for a successful school year and helps reduce the risk of emergency medical situations at school.  

But regular physicals help the whole school community. When your child is healthy, this helps keep other students and staff healthy 

How safe are school immunizations? 

According to the CDC, vaccines are safe for children.  

Before any vaccine is recommended for use in the U.S., highly trained scientists and doctors from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and CDC perform a series of clinical trials over a ten-year span to make sure a vaccine is safe and effective

Then, once it’s licensed, these experts continue monitoring the vaccine to ensure there are no public health or safety concerns.  

Vaccine side effects 

Vaccines, like any medications, can cause side effects. But these are usually mild (e.g., soreness where the shot was given or low-grade fever) and go away within a few days. Serious side effects are rare, with only one in a million children having a severe allergic reaction. 

Statistics from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) show that childhood immunizations are 90-99% effective in preventing disease and have prevented more than 103.1 million cases of childhood illnesses, like measles, mumps, rubella, and more.  

Medical risks of students not taking vaccines 

You may not think your child needs a vaccine when they are healthy. But keeping up with immunizations is the best way to keep them that way. Vaccine-preventable illnesses still circulate in the U.S. in certain areas and during certain times of the year. Therefore, even if the rest of the community is vaccinated, your child may still be at risk.  

Being vaccinated can also keep your child participating in activities they enjoy. If a vaccine-preventable illness starts spreading in the community, your child could be taken out of school or group activities. The school can determine when or if it is safe for your child to return. Your child may have to stay home for several days or weeks. 

Additionally, vaccination keeps the community safe. It helps lower the risk of illness in groups of people who can’t be vaccinated due to age, allergies, or medical conditions.  

Vaccines given to babies prepare them for school 

Getting pediatric vaccines can help your child develop immunity against diseases before coming into contact with them, so get them well before school starts.  

They’re especially important for babies and young kids at greater risk for infectious diseases since their immune systems haven’t yet developed the defenses to fight invaded bacteria or viruses. However, vaccines are not just for the early years. Immunizations are recommended for people of all ages. 

One reason additional shots are needed is that vaccines wear off over time. While your child should receive doses of DTaP for diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis (whooping cough) before age seven, for example, a booster TDaP shot is needed at age 11-12. 

HPV and meningococcal shots 

Also recommended around age 11-12 are HPV and meningococcal shots. HPV protects from the human papillomavirus, which 14 million Americans contract each year and can cause various forms of cancer. The meningococcal vaccine helps prevent meningococcal disease, which can lead to infections of the fluid and lining around the brain and spinal cord, as well as bloodstream infections. 

List of vaccines for babies 

You can find an overview of the CDC recommendations for childhood vaccinations on their website, although what is required can vary by state. Here is a list of vaccines for babies that are recommended before they are 15 months: 

  • COVID-19 
  • Diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis 
  • Influenza 
  • Haemophilus influenzae type B 
  • Hepatitis A 
  • Hepatitis B 
  • Measles, mumps, rubella 
  • Pneumococcal conjugate 
  • Poliovirus 
  • Rotavirus 
  • Varicella 

Speak to your healthcare provider about which vaccines are recommended for your child. 

Immunization FAQs 

Here are frequently asked questions about school vaccines: 

Are vaccines required for my child to go to school? 

Yes, every state has different vaccination requirements for schools. It is best to visit your state health department website for information about required immunizations. Individual schools might also have their own specific requirements, check with them too.  

What vaccines are actually necessary for babies? 

The CDC has a recommended vaccine schedule for children. If you have questions about which vaccines your baby needs, it is best to speak to your healthcare provider.  

Vaccines are the best line of defense against many contagious diseases and will keep your child protected around classmates, during play dates, and when participating in extracurricular activities.