Officials Remind Families to Get Vaccines in Order Before New School Year

The Illinois State Board of Education has made some changes to its vaccine requirements for the coming school year, expanding the number of students who need to get meningococcal and varicella immunizations. (Jessica R. Vargas / Wikimedia Commons)

On top of books, backpacks and back-to-school checklists, students returning to class next month need something else to properly prepare for the new school year: their shots.

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Throughout the month of August, the Illinois State Board of Education and the Illinois Department of Public Health are encouraging parents and guardians statewide to get their children’s vaccinations up to date before the first day of class.

“Immunizations are in place to protect students, families and communities,” State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said in a press release. “Our students need to stay healthy in order to be able to put their best foot forward each day and continue to grow both in the classroom and outside of it.”

Beginning this school year, students across Illinois entering kindergarten or grades two, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 and 11 must show proof of having received two doses of varicella to protect against chickenpox. The two-dose rule had previously only applied only to students entering kindergarten or sixth, seventh, ninth and 10th grade. Those entering other all other grades are required to have at least one dose of the vaccine.

Also new this year: Students going into grades six, seven and 12 must prove they have received their meningococcal vaccination. Previously, only sixth- and 12th-graders were required to get this shot.

In both private and public schools, all students entering kindergarten and any non-preschool student enrolling for the first time in Illinois must also have an eye examination performed by a licensed optometrist or medical doctor. These exams must be completed within one year prior to Oct. 15.

Students enrolled in kindergarten, second and sixth grades must receive a dental exam. They are also required to undergo a physical examination before entering Illinois schools for the first time, prior to enrolling in kindergarten or first grade, prior to entering sixth grade and prior to entering ninth grade.

“Preventing diseases through vaccination is a proven way to improve community health,” IDPH Director Nirav D. Shah said in a release. “By promoting immunizations and increasing vaccination rates, especially among children, we can prevent many chronic illnesses and keep students healthy in school and ready to learn.”

During the 2014-15 school year, 97.7 percent of the state’s 2.2 million students complied with immunization and health examination requirements, according to ISBE’s most recent data analysis, a slight improvement over the previous year.

Students who do not present an acceptable waiver proving they have received their health examinations and/or immunizations by Oct. 15 will be held out of school until those requirements are met. During that period, parents are subject to the state's mandatory attendance law and penalties, according to ISBE public information officer Megan Griffin.

Additionally, anyone objecting to vaccinations on religious grounds is now required to present an IDPH objection form which details the basis for the objection and must be signed by a parent or legal guardian and a religious official attesting to a "bona fide religious objection" to their local school authority. This requirement was laid out in a bill signed into law last October, according to Griffin, one day after mandatory compliance was required for the 2015-16 school year, meaning it only applied to new move-in students or parents who filed an objection after that date last year.

Griffin said the number of religious objections requested last school year is not yet available, but that total is expected to be released by the end of this year.

These requirements apply to all Illinois schools – public, private and charter.

This month also marks National Immunization Awareness Month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which highlights the importance of vaccinations for people of all ages.

For more information about immunizations, visit the Illinois Department of Public Health website. A full immunization requirement schedule is also available here.

Additional resources:

  • Vaccines for Children – a federally-funded program offering vaccines at no cost to children from low-income families that may not be able to afford immunizations – can be reached at 312-746-6050 for Chicago residents or 217-785-1455 for the rest of Illinois.
  • The Illinois Help Me Grow helpline is also available at 1-800-323-GROW to provide additional information.
  • The Chicago Department of Health provides five fast-track immunization clinics throughout the city that provide vaccinations at no cost for children up to 18 years old.

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