An Anticipated Coronavirus Vaccine: How will Georgia Schools & Daycare Handle Vaccination Exemptions?

Information Current as of June 11, 2020

In anticipation of a vaccine for the COVID-19 this fall, it is a good time to revisit the vaccinations requirements in your State and determine if your institution/business will be obligated to require COVID-19 vaccination of your daycare or student population and/or possibly your staff/employees.  In review of Georgia law, vaccinations are required for all children entering school or attending a daycare center.  Georgia law allows two exceptions to vaccinations—medical necessity and religious objections.  In Georgia the laws allow private schools and daycare centers to accept the medical and/or religious exemptions, but do not require them to do so.  Additionally, with the infection rate of COVID-19 and the World pandemic of the virus, in Georgia protection of public safety is a legal reason for both public and private schools and daycare centers not to recognize such exemptions.

Vaccination of School/Daycare Population in a Pandemic

Specifically, in Georgia during an “epidemic or a threatened epidemic” for any disease preventable by an immunization required by the Georgia Department of Public Health, children who have not been immunized may be excluded from the school or facility until: (1) they are immunized, unless they present valid evidence of prior disease, or (2) the epidemic or threat no longer constitutes a significant public health danger.  The code does not define what qualifies as an “epidemic or a threatened epidemic.”  However, it is generally recognized that an epidemic is a disease that temporarily is prevalent in a community or throughout a large area while the greater pandemic (such as COVID-19 has been classified) is a global outbreak of a particular disease. 

Further, the Georgia Department of Education has issued “Pandemic Planning: Information for Georgia Public School Districts.” In this planning document, the Georgia Department of Education State School Superintendent has set forth pandemic operational action Levels 0 through 7 to serve as a guide for responses and actions based on the identification and evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. Beginning with Level 1, the planning guide states schools should “not enroll students from out-of-county or out-of-state without appropriate immunization records” and based on immunization and other health guidelines.  At Level 2, the planning guide provides a blanket prohibition of enrollment of any student “without appropriate immunization records.” Based on this planning document, if a vaccination for COVID-19 is available, the Georgia Department of Public Health may require, by prohibition of the medical/religious exemptions and exclusion of a child from school, all children attending a school or daycare facility to get vaccinated as part of the pandemic planning/response.

Vaccination of Staff/Employees in a Pandemic

Finally, in consideration of whether staff/employees can be required to be vaccinated, the Georgia Department of Public Health and all County Boards of Health are empowered to require immunization and other preventative measures during a public health emergency.  Specifically, such Departments/Boards may require, by appropriate rules and regulations, a person located within their respective jurisdictions to submit to vaccination against contagious or infectious diseases where the particular disease may occur, whether or not the disease may be an active threat. While the law provides for a religious exemption to vaccination, persons are required to submit to vaccination in the event of an epidemic or immediate threat of an epidemic. Again the word “epidemic” is not defined, but it is reasonable to assume that the pandemic of COVID-19 will rise to the level of an epidemic and the religious exemption will not be available to staff/employees. Therefore, in the event a vaccination is available and the Department of Public Health and/or your County Boards of Health requires vaccination, your staff/employees will be required to obtain such vaccination.

Action Items

Consult with legal counsel to review your State vaccination requirements, exemptions and pandemic/epidemic requirements for both children and adults and review and revise vaccination forms as needed.  Consider advising your population of the possible requirement to vaccinate their children so parents can prepare for such requirement by consulting with their medical provider(s). 

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