By Madeline Deninger
As mandated by state law in the 2016 legislative session, incoming seventh-grade students are required to receive the meningococcal vaccine before returning to school in the fall.
State law requires K-12 students be up to date on all vaccinations outlined in Iowa legislation each year. Incoming 12th-graders will need to have received a second dose of the meningococcal vaccine after turning 16.
Before the law passed, Iowa was one of 11 states not requiring students to have received the vaccine. Don Callaghan, the head of the Iowa Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Immunization and Tuberculosis, said the law was met with little to no opposition from Iowa school districts.
“The legislation is consistent with what is already recommended by medical professionals,” he said.
Students who do not meet the immunization requirements will not be allowed to enroll in classes; there is no provisional period for this requirement. Students are still allowed to request medical or religious exemptions.
According to the Iowa Administrative Code, “It shall be the duty of the admitting official to deny enrollment to students who do not comply with requirements for proof of immunization or immunization exemption.”
“We obviously don’t want children to be excluded,” Callaghan said. “But it’s up to the legislation that children who aren’t vaccinated can’t go to school.”
Bethany Kintigh, the program manager of the Public Health Department immunization program, said many students have already received the vaccine. Kintigh also noted the department has been in communication with schools and school nurses to ensure incoming students are properly vaccinated.
“This is not a new vaccine,” she said. “This is not being handled any differently than if a student had tried to enroll without another vaccine.”
Callaghan said there were approximately five cases of meningitis reported in Iowa schools last year. The number of cases has declined in past years, he said, and he believes that new requirement will help that trend continue.
“The larger number [of vaccinations] helps to protect the schools and communities around [those vaccinated],” he said.
Pam Hinman, a school nurse in the Iowa City School District, said the district has seen few to no outbreaks of meningitis, but the costs and resources associated with dealing with a meningitis infection in the schools was a risk the state ran without the law.
Hinman also said the law promotes awareness of the required vaccines, but she said local physicians “tend to push the [meningitis] vaccine.”
The Johnson County Public Health Department provides free immunizations for children, regardless of whether they have insurance.
“What [the law] does is it encourages kids to go in for vaccinations and annual physicals,” Hinman said.