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Senate passes bill requiring schools outline exemptions to immunization requirements

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Senate passes bill requiring schools outline exemptions to immunization requirements

Mar 04, 2024 | 5:20 pm ET
By Robin Opsahl
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Senate passes bill requiring schools outline exemptions to immunization requirements
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School communications on vaccines would have to include information about exemptions under a bill passed by the Iowa Senate. (Photo via Getty Images)

Legislation requiring schools to include information about vaccine exemptions in communications about immunization passed the Iowa Senate Monday.

Senators sent Senate File 2196 to the House on a 31-15 vote. Sen. Jesse Green, R-Boone, said the bill is needed because of misinformation around vaccine and immunization requirements for students attending Iowa K-12 schools.

“‘No shots no school’ — this is a lie,” Green said. “It is a lie that’s been told by many schools around the state. This bill is a simple fix to that.”

Iowa Code does contain immunization requirements for students attending licensed child care centers and K-12 schools, with parents and guardians having to submit certificates of immunizations or certificates of immunization exemption for their students.

The legislation would not change these requirements, but would require that school communications specifically include that exemptions are allowed, and information on the requirements  needed to be granted an exemption.

Sen. Molly Donahue, D-Cedar Rapids, said multiple speakers at the Senate subcommittee meeting on the bill expressed concerns about the legislation potentially obfuscating the importance of vaccines, she said, particularly “childhood diseases that are curable with immunization.” Immunizations required, with exemptions available, for children to attend child care centers or schools in Iowa include vaccines for polio, measles and tetanus.

Donahue said schools should not be the focal point of medical discussions on childhood vaccinations.

“We don’t need the schools to have yet another mandate for them to have to deal with for this particular area,” Donahue said. “The schools are not versed in medical information to provide families with accurate medical advice beyond passing out that paperwork. … Families should be getting this from their personal doctors, not from the schools, and I don’t believe that the school district should have to be mandated to provide this information.”

Green said that during discussions on the bill, the only pushback he heard was from people who were concerned the provision would increase “vaccine hesitancy, but no school superintendents told him that implementing the requirement for schools to outline exemptions would be an issue. He also said many schools are already including information that exemptions are available in information sent to families about immunizations.

“I commend those schools for for trying to do the right thing,” Green said. “This just ensures that every school does the right thing.”

The legislation comes in the wake of a larger discussion on vaccine requirements and recommendations prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Childhood vaccinations — and common immunization requirements for students attending schools — have become a point of contention in some states. In Florida, a measles outbreak coincided with a decade-low rate of students providing proof of immunization, USA Today reported.