Youth Services Law

Can You Require Vaccinations?

VaccinationThe recent news about measles outbreaks has prompted several clients to ask me whether they can require children to be vaccinated before enrolling them in their facility.  The short answer is, "Yes, probably."  I know, lawyers can never give a straight answer, but in this case, the law is not all that straight.

Georgia law requires vaccinations for all children entering school or attending a day care center.  It allows only two exceptions -- medical necessity and religious objections.  Other states allow an exception for philosophical objections to vaccines. However, most of those laws only require public schools to accept the exceptions.  The laws allow private schools and day care centers to accept the exemptions, but do not require them to do so.  In general, then, private facilities can place whatever requirements they want on the children they enroll.

There are, however, important limits on that general rule.

Both federal and many state laws prohibit discrimination on various grounds, including religion or physical disability.  Therefore, to the extent that a medical exception is caused by an identified disability, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act requires that you make reasonable accommodations.  The law does not require that you accept all immunized children, but that you make a good-faith effort to accommodate a particular child's disability.  If you cannot do so and still protect the health of the other children in your care, then you can refuse to enroll that child.  Of course, some states have more stringent disability laws, so you will need to research the laws or consult a lawyer in your particular jurisdiction.

Religious exemptions require a similar analysis.  You cannot adopt a rule targeted at a particular religious group, nor (in many states) one that is likely to fall more heavily on one group than another.  However, religious exemptions are not absolute, and protection of public safety is a strong reason to not recognize them.  Just be certain that you have researched what the state health department requirements are, whether your state has declared an emergency that suspends its normal exemptions, and the risk to the other children in your care if you accommodate a particular child.

Both state health departments (ex., Georgia) and the CDC have published a recommended schedule of vaccines that you can access as you are developing your policy.

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