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Vt. vaccination requirements remain for 2020/2021 school year

Published: Aug. 13, 2020 at 7:08 AM EDT|Updated: Aug. 13, 2020 at 8:26 AM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Much of the back-to-school conversation is about students and COVID-19, but Vermont’s health leaders say vaccine requirements are still in place for other infectious diseases.

To attend a public or independent school in Vermont, students are required to hand in vaccine paperwork or get the proper exemption that lets them opt-out.

Even with various education models, including partially in-person or even fully remote, vaccine requirements are the same.

“At a time where so much in our world has changed due to an infectious disease, we want to keep children up to date on immunization,” said Christine Finley, the immunization program director at the Vermont Department of Health.

She says they’ve been monitoring the doses of vaccines given each month to see if children are still getting shots during the pandemic.

Things remained pretty steady for babies in April through June of this year compared to last year, but there was a sharp drop in children, preteens and teenagers. However, Finely says she’s encouraged by the July numbers.

“I think what that’s telling us is they still recognize the importance of, and the docs are reaching out, and they’re getting those kids vaccinated,” said Finley.

When asked about whether the coronavirus vaccine would make the requirement list for Vermont students alongside polio and MMR, Finely says it’s way too soon to think about that.

“As they move through testing for safety and effectiveness on large populations and the impact of the vaccine, children haven’t even been included in the testing at this point,” said Finley.

But it’s not just the required vaccines Finley says her team is trying to encourage this year. She says the flu shot is important every year, but this year especially.

“The risk of flu co-circulating with COVID is not a good thing,” she said.

Finley says they’re working with providers to set up clinics and the health department has ordered more doses of the flu vaccine than they usually do.

Record number of school kids vaccinated in the 2019/2020 school year

According to the Vermont Department of Health, 95.1% of students K-12 were vaccinated in the 2019/2020 school year. The data was released in May 2020. That’s up from 94.5% in 2018/2019.

Kids who don’t get vaccinated must provide a medical or religious exemption. Medical exemptions are serious and include diseases like cancer. Medical exemptions remained steady at 0.2%. The religious exemption dropped a fraction to a flat 3.0%.

Kids who aren’t up to date and don’t have an exemption form are called “provisional.” They are given six months to get things in order. That number dropped a bit to 1.7%, meaning fewer kids weren’t up to date and still going to school.

When just looking at brand new school-age students -- the kindergartners -- they were vaccinated at a rate of 92.2%. That’s an all-time high.

“There’s been a coordinated collaborative approach in our state where the school nurses, the health department and primary care providers are working together encouraging parents on why vaccines are important,” said Finley.

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