Answers to frequently asked questions about California school vaccination laws

This summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed a new vaccine law, Senate Bill 277, which states that parents of students who attend public or private schools can no longer refuse to vaccinate their children based on a personal belief exemption. However, current vaccine laws that went into effect in 2014 are still in place for the 2015-16 school year. The first real impact of the new SB 277 law will be seen with students who are entering school in fall 2016.

child getting vaccineTo get clarification on current and future vaccine laws, we reached out to OCDE Medical Officer Dr. Marc Lerner and Coordinator of Health and Wellness Pamela Kahn with some frequently asked questions about childhood vaccines.

But before answering questions, they both had a message for parents. “First, we want to remind parents that vaccinations required for school entry are only a portion of those that are recommended for the health of our students,” Dr. Lerner said. “In fact, the full schedule of recommended vaccinations can save lives and prevent certain types of cancers.”

What vaccines do students need to begin attending public school in fall 2015?

Children must be immunized against the following nine diseases: diphtheria, hepatitis B., measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), poliomyelitis (polio), rubella, tetanus and varicella (chickenpox).

Are students required to have the flu vaccine?

While a child is not required to have the flu vaccine for school entry, the Centers for Disease Control recommends that most people ages 6 months and older receive an annual flu vaccine. Each year, 50 previously well U.S. children die from influenza and its complications.

Does a student entering seventh grade only need the pertussis vaccine?

New admissions to seventh grade should meet the immunization requirements for ages 7 to 17 years. In addition, entering seventh-graders will need one dose of Tdap or DTP/DTaP given on or after the seventh birthday, and two doses of MMR or any measles-containing vaccine — both doses given on or after the first birthday.

If a child starting first grade is up to date on vaccines, do they still need a physical exam?

Yes. The law requires that a health examination be completed up to 18 months before entry into first grade or within 90 days thereafter.

What about transitional kindergarten?

Transitional kindergarten entrants need to provide documentation of required kindergarten immunizations before admission.

If a child is in the process of having their required vaccinations completed, can they still enroll in school?

Yes. Children who are not currently due for any immunizations may be admitted on the condition that they will receive still-needed doses as they become due in the future.

If a parent has a personal belief exemption on file, will their child be allowed to go to school?

Personal belief exemptions submitted before Jan. 1, 2016 will remain valid until a pupil reaches kindergarten or seventh grade. At that time, children with a valid personal belief exemption filed before 2016 will have to meet all age-appropriate immunization requirements for admission into K-12, or be enrolled in an independent study program with no classroom-based instruction or a home-based private school, unless a new medical exemption is submitted to the school.

Is there a limit to how old a personal belief exemption form is?

A completed Personal Beliefs Exemption to Required Immunizations form signed and dated within six months of entry to school fulfills documentation requirements.

If a student has had chicken pox in the past do they need to get the varicella vaccine?

If a physician provides a written statement that a child has had varicella disease, then the child can be exempted from the varicella requirement. The signed statement must be presented at school registration.

Keep in mind that we focused on questions related to public school requirements. Additional information on current law, as well as SB 277, is available form the California Department of Public Health at Shots for School.