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The Best Defense: Immunizations

Since long before the COVID pandemic, school nurses have been important advocates for the critical role vaccines play in promoting public health and protecting the health and safety of our communities.  Unfortunately, there continue to be notable declines in childhood vaccination rates since the pandemic, leaving children vulnerable to illness and increasing the risk of vaccine-preventable disease spread.  Misinformation and a heightened sense of mistrust in public health over the past 2 years means school nurses must expand their efforts in being trustworthy communicators, providing accurate information and evidence-based resources, and answering all questions or concerns with empathy and understanding.


Each year, the CDC publishes updated immunization schedules for all age groups.  At the state level, these recommendations are reviewed and state-specific legislation is enacted, requiring children to receive certain vaccines before attending public school and oftentimes daycares and private schools, as well.  School nurses should send clear and informative communication to the school community, outlining required vaccines and exemption/exclusion policies.  Including links to helpful FAQs, useful videos, or educative apps can encourage further learning and support higher vaccination rates.


Accurate record-keeping regarding student immunizations is critical and school nurses must work closely with families and primary care providers to maintain up-to-date and valid records.  If records are incomplete or difficult to track down, refer families to your state’s immunization information system.  Additionally, for students not in compliance with vaccine requirements due to financial constraints, the Vaccines For Children Program offers vaccines at no cost for eligible children.  Parents or guardians may also express concern about their student being fearful of shots and past vaccine appointments having been challenging.  There are many great games and guides available that can help families plan for and manage the experience.


In the event of a communicable disease outbreak, the school nurse should have an updated reference list of students who are susceptible to disease due to a lack of immunization readily available.  Quick collaboration with school administration and public health officials is required if an outbreak is suspected to determine which students are susceptible and the appropriate length of exclusion.

Nurses have historically played a prominent role in vaccine advocacy, education, and delivery.  Today, school nurses are at the frontlines of promoting optimal public health and safety through the management, implementation, and oversight of evidence-based immunization strategies

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