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Health department renews previously blocked vaccine requirements for school children

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Health department renews previously blocked vaccine requirements for school children

May 20, 2024 | 6:37 pm ET
By Erik Gunn
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Health department renews previously blocked vaccine requirements for school children
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Children entering seventh grade or 12th grade will require meningitis vaccines under newly updated school and child care center vaccine requirements from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS).

The agency has also reinstated a requirement that for a child to be exempt from the state’s chickenpox vaccine requirement in school, a previous chickenpox infection must be documented by a qualified medical professional. DHS announced the updated vaccine requirements Monday, saying that a block imposed in the state Legislature in 2023 has now ended because the Legislature’s session has ended for the year.

According to state health officials, the changes bring Wisconsin closer to following national guidelines from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its vaccination health advisory committee, as well as what neighboring states require for school children.

Along with existing vaccine requirements, the new rules specify a child must have the meningitis vaccine to enter seventh grade and a meningitis booster to enter 12th grade.

The rules also require that if a parent claims a waiver from the required chickenpox vaccine for a child who has previously had chickenpox, the parent must present documentation from a qualified medical professional of the child’s prior infection.

For child care centers the new requirements take effect immediately. For schools, they take effect with the 2024-25 school year. Parents are required to produce proof that their children have received the required shots, or must submit a signed waiver if they are invoking medical, religious or philosophical objections permitted under Wisconsin law.

DHS is advising parents to consult with their family doctors to ensure that shots are up to date.  

DHS originally updated the requirements effective Feb. 1, 2023, but the Legislature’s Joint Committee for the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) suspended the new rules five weeks later, on March 9.

“That suspension expired at the end of the legislative session on April 15, 2024, making these school and child care immunization requirements now fully in effect,” the DHS announcement said.

The chickenpox and meningitis vaccines have been in use for decades and found safe and effective, according to DHS. Updating the state’s requirements “improves how we can protect children as well as their entire schools and communities from these vaccine-preventable illnesses,” said DHS Secretary-designee Kirsten Johnson in a statement.

According to the state’s most recent vaccination data, 89.2% of school-age students have met the minimum immunization requirements for the 2023-24 school year, a decrease of 0.7% from the year before.

Increasing vaccination rates helps protect the broader community, said state Health Officer Paula Tran, “and the more children who are vaccinated, the more protected an entire school and community is.”