To Vaccinate or Not: The Legal Requirements

7 years ago
This article was written by a member of the SheKnows Community. It has not been edited, vetted or reviewed by our editorial staff, and any opinions expressed herein are the writer’s own.

Fisher price doctor kit Brother's Keeper

At the Minnesota Zoo play area last week, I overheard Darling 1 tell a boy much older than himself, "I don't think that's very safe," when he noticed the boy scaling the rocky side of the play area {I had been thinking the same thing}. Then, in the Aquarium wing of the Zoo, Darling 2 nearly tackled his brother when Darling 1 started to stick his hand in the tank to pet the sting rays and small sharks, something that is allowed in that tank. Darling 2 grabbed Darling 1, pulling him back, saying, "No, Brother," thinking he was about to topple into the tank with the sharks.

My Boys certainly take risks and don't always think before they act, but they're always on the lookout for safety issues. I always breathe a sigh of relief when I see them looking out for themselves, each other and total strangers; just maybe the teen years won't be overly risky; or maybe I'm just dreaming, but it's still soothing to see.

To Protect Always

I want more than anything to protect my kids from any and all harm; well, as much as possible, that is. We make choices based on this credo in order to protect them from mental and physical pain, injury, illness, poisoning, etc. and to preserve their health for the future. For the most part, these matters do not concern or affect others.

One decision that does indirectly affect many others is the decision to vaccinate our Boys. Since becoming a parent in 2006, there have been conversations with other parents, stories in the news, articles in scholarly journals and discussions with the pediatrician about whether to vaccinate or not. There have been reports falling on both sides of the issue. Back in 2006 when I became a mom, some studies still claimed there was a link between vaccines and autism.

As a new parent, I skimmed the articles, listened to other's point of view and then had my Boys vaccinated. To me, the threat of my Boys acquiring these dreaded illnesses and perhaps dying is much scarier than autism or a reaction, etc. It was a risk I was willing to take in order to avert the risks of potentially deadly illnesses.

Generations Past

My own parents and DH's parents also made the decision to have their children vaccinated. Our parents are older enough to remember having some of the now preventable illnesses themselves or seeing others suffer from them.

Viral outbreaks and epidemics are not something we want to be the norm again. And yet, in the past several years, the flu, measles and whooping cough have been spreading and many warnings have been issued. Just this spring, the Boys' preschool sent home a warning about a recent uptick in measles being reported in the county.

Required by Law

If people are vaccinated against as many communicable diseases as possible, fewer deadly pandemics will occur, as has been the case until recent years. The states do mandate that children in schools and daycare are vaccinated with a few exceptions. These laws are in place to control the spread of disease.

While it's recommended that the required vaccines be administered, there are religious, philosophical, medical and proof of immunity exemptions. Each state varies with the exact requirements, but in general the following vaccines are required by law for children:

  • Diphtheria;
  • Polio;
  • Measles;
  • Mumps;
  • Pertussis;
  • Haemophilius influenza type b;
  • Hepatitis B;
  • Rubella; and
  • Tetanus

Minnesota also requires vaccines for Varicella (chickenpox) and recommends Hepatitis A, Influenza, Meningococcal and Human papillomavirus (for girls). Each state may require varying doses, require more vaccines or fewer vaccines or make other recommendations. For a link to your state's immunization website, go to the Immunization Action Coalition page and click on your state.


As mentioned, there are a few reasons the states will allow children to be exempt from the required vaccines. And while I personally think that getting vaccinated is the way to go, I also think that if you have a reason and feel strongly about your child not getting a particular vaccine or any required or recommended vaccines, then you should stand up and advocate for your child.

Once again, the exact requirements and documentation for each state varies, but here are the reasons allowed for exemptions from vaccines:

  • Medical

    All states offer a medical exemption for children who have allergic reactions to ingredients in vaccines; who have compromised immune systems; or who have severe illnesses which could be exacerbated by and the vaccine. To use a medical exemption, a medical doctor must sign a statement advising of the medical reason why a vaccine should not be administered to a particular child.


  • Philosophical

    Only 18 states allow for vaccination exemptions based on philosophical or personal beliefs. Most of these states require a person using this exemption to object to all of the required vaccines, not just one particular vaccine. You must be prepared to explain your objection and prove that it's a tenet you hold fast to.


  • Religious

    This is a serious exemption, not to be used lightly. All states except Mississippi and West Virginia allow for a religious exemption. According to the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), "The religious exemption is intended for people who hold a sincere religious belief opposing vaccination to the extent that if the state forced vaccination, it would be an infringement on their right to exercise their religious beliefs."


    Some states define religion loosely, allowing for personally held beliefs to fall into this category, but other states allow only members of The First Church of Christ, Christian Science, or other legitimate religion denomination to use this exemption.


    If a state challenges a request for exemption, you may end up in court defending your choice to claim religious exemption. States have a legitimate compelling interest; that is, to prevent the spread of illness. However, this exemption is protected under the First Amendment right to exercise your religion so long as your religious beliefs don't harm others.


    It could be argued that the spread of disease from lack of vaccines does put others at risk. This is not to say that it can't be successfully challenged based on religious beliefs; it has been and can be.


  • Proof of Immunity

    This exemption is allowed by states for vaccines for particular illnesses if it can be proven that your child has had the illness already or has been vaccinated previously. For instance, if your child has already had chickenpox there is no need to get the Varicella vaccines required in many states because once you have had chickenpox you can't have it again.


    You may have to have a private medical lab take blood and check the level of antibodies present for the particular illness you are requesting the vaccine exemption.

The Scoop

Later this week, I will discuss the now-debunked studies regarding the link between vaccines and autism and examine the reasons why parents opt not to get vaccines based on one of the above exemptions. I will also provide resources for getting free or reduced cost vaccines for your family, and the federal law requirements for keeping you informed regarding the vaccines give to your child.

Where do you stand on this issue? Over and out...


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