Some Iowa students now required to get meningococcal vaccine or potentially miss class

IOWA CITY, Iowa (KCRG) - A state law might keep kids from going to school in Iowa if they haven't gotten a newly required vaccine for meningococcal disease.

The law went into effect in 2017, but it was agreed the new law would be "rolled out" over the span of five years. Many middle school students are now required to either get the vaccine or prove a religious or medical exemption, at risk of missing class.

Iowa has had similar regulations in place for other vaccinations, but the most recent changes added the meningococcal vaccine.

Students entering 7th, 8th, or 9th grade will have to prove they have gotten the meningococcal conjugate vaccine, or they have an exemption. Students entering 12th grade will also have to prove they have either gotten one dose or two, depending on if they have already received a vaccination after the age of 16.

For Dr. Shirley Paul, a pediatrician with Mercy Iowa City, says the time before school starts is often when kids are waiting for check-ups.

"We can make sure they're up to date on all their immunizations, make sure those children who have chronic illnesses that we make sure they get the medication that they need," Dr. Paul said.

On the topic specifically related to immunizations, Dr. Paul said while she cannot force parents to get their kids vaccinated, she says it makes a lot of sense.

"They help protect against preventable diseases, things that could cause them serious illness," Dr. Paul said. "It keeps everyone else around them healthy as well."

Now the pressure is on school districts to enforce those rules.

In a statement to TV9, Laurie Haman, the Communications Director for the Clear Creek Amana Community School District, said in part families "cannot attend school until their children are adequately immunized or provisions are made."

"Sometimes it's as easy as getting the required paperwork from a previous school and other times it requires more attention," Haman said.

Kristin Pedersen, the Director of Community Relations for the Iowa City Community School District, told TV9 while they "do not send students home if they do not have the required vaccinations or an exemption."

"We will provide support to the families to ensure we reach compliance with the law, while keeping the child in school," Pedersen said.

And while statewide reports from the Iowa Department of Public Health show a decrease in the number of students being vaccinated, doctors hope this could potentially reverse the trend.

"Vaccines actually have been one of the major advancements in medical care," Dr. Paul said. "That's one of the things that we don't have to see these diseases now."