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Is a Vaccination Policy Right for Your Church/School?

March 6, 2019 - According to the CDC, from January 1 to February 28, 2019, 206 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 11 States.This statistic is not one to ignore, and unfortunately, has not been the first instance of an outbreak. 

Following an outbreak of measles traced to an amusement park in 2014, the State of California passed a law effective July 1, 2016 that eliminates personal and religious belief exemptions from the state’s compulsory vaccination requirements for private and public schoolchildren. This means that all school-age children in California must be vaccinated unless there is a medical reason for not doing so. California is the third state without any nonmedical exemptions to state vaccination law. Forty-six other states allow children to be exempt from vaccines for religious reasons, and 17 states allow exemptions for philosophical or personal reasons. 

Churches are faced with vaccination issues primarily in three settings: (1) church-operated nurseries and Sunday school classes during services; (2) church-operated daycares or preschools; and (3) church-operated schools.

There is generally no state requirement that children be vaccinated before participating in Sunday school classes and/or church nurseries, but it’s a good idea to check your state’s compulsory vaccination law. 

Assuming there is no state or local law to the contrary, it’s up to your church to decide whether or not to establish a policy requiring vaccinations for all children participating in your programs. Carefully consider your options. On the one hand, the CDC provides a page of information on reasons to immunize.  On the other hand, administering a vaccination policy is a challenging endeavor and raises the question of whether your church will exclude children whose parents have opted not to immunize, whether for medical, religious or philosophical reasons.

If your church operates a daycare, preschool or school, revisit your state’s compulsory vaccination laws to determine what is required and whether those requirements apply to your church as a private organization. The National Conference of State Legislators has compiled a listing of each state’s vaccine requirements and exemptions. You’ll also want to check with your licensing and/or accrediting body’s requirements for guidance. Beyond that, the decision is yours. Some organizations have adopted policies that require vaccinations before a child can attend – even when not required by law. Others have not. No matter which route you choose, strongly consider informing parents of your vaccination policy.

Regardless of the setting, make sure your church has a reliable procedure in place that allows you to quickly respond to infectious disease outbreaks that could potentially impact the children in your care. Common elements and considerations of such a plan include:

  • Isolation. Isolate a child who is demonstrating symptoms of a contagious childhood disease and contact the child’s parents to pick him or her up from the church. If the child develops an infectious disease at home after a church activity, request that the parent inform your childcare leadership team.
  • Notification. If you’re made aware of a potential infectious disease at your facility, notify parents of children who may have been exposed so they can monitor their children’s health. You may also need to make your local public health department aware of the disease, so it’s important to brush up on the department’s notification requirements.
  • Exclusion. To protect children who are not immunized, consider excluding non-immunized children and unvaccinated workers from childcare services during a contagious disease outbreak.

For more information about vaccinations and vaccine safety, visit the National Vaccine Information Center’s website. 

© 2020 The GuideOne Center for Risk Management, LLC. All rights reserved.This material is for informational purposes only. It is not intended to give specific legal or risk management advice, nor are any suggested checklists or action plans intended to include or address all possible risk management exposures or solutions. You are encouraged to retain your own expert consultants and legal advisors in order to develop a risk management plan specific to your own activities.