Student Well-Being

Kids Are Behind on Routine Vaccinations. Here’s What Schools Can Do About It

By Arianna Prothero — July 09, 2021 4 min read
Digital generated image of many syringes with vaccine making a decline diagram.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

While there has been tremendous focus on vaccinations for schoolchildren against COVID-19, there is another vaccine-related issue lurking, and one that could cause massive headaches for schools—or worse.

Many families skipped their children’s routine immunizations in the spring of 2020, and those numbers have not returned to their pre-pandemic levels, according to a study of nine states and New York City by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The reason, the CDC said, is in part because schools did not enforce vaccine requirements last year as students were learning remotely.

Now, public health experts are urging schools to not waste any time in prodding families to get their children caught up on their regular immunizations before the start of the next school year.

“We and others are very concerned that a large number of kids have missed their routine vaccinations, to the point that we’re going to see outbreaks this fall [of] measles, mumps, and rubella,” said Richard Long, the executive director of the Learning First Alliance, a group of K-12 organizations including the national associations for school principals and superintendents, the country’s two largest teachers’ unions, and the National PTA.

In its report, the CDC warned that if students return under-vaccinated to schools this fall, it could lead to outbreaks and cause a “serious public health threat.”

That’s the more extreme scenario.

Another possibility is that, as more students return to in-person learning and schools step up vaccine enforcement, large numbers of students won’t be able to start school on time because they haven’t received their required immunizations.

Schools need to get the word out

To avoid that situation, schools need to make it a priority now, if they haven’t already, to give parents frequent reminders to get their children immunized, said Long. Put notices in newsletters, on school websites, and in students’ backpacks at summer school.

“What they should absolutely do, just remind parents and students that this is something they have to do,” he said. “What they shouldn’t do is say that the sky is falling. Fear mongering is clearly the wrong way to go. This is a solvable problem, we can solve it. It’s a matter of getting information to people and reminding them.”

The Learning First Alliance has put together materials, including pamphlets to send out to families and a social media toolkit, for schools to use.

Schools, said Long, should also make families aware that, if they are worried about cost, there is a federally funded program that provides routine immunizations for free called the Vaccines for Children Program.
Schools or families can find a list of doctors, clinics, and hospitals that participate in the program by contacting their state’s Vaccines for Children coordinator.

See also

Image of a band aid being applied after a vaccination.

Some families, though, might need more than fliers, said Kaweeda G. Adams, the superintendent of the City School District of Albany in New York. She oversaw a big push to get students who were learning remotely last year up to date on their vaccines.

Although her district typically has a high vaccination rate, the pandemic, combined with a change in the state law for what vaccines are required and when, led to a lot of confusion among families, especially those that had opted for remote learning, about what was required for enrolling their children in school.

“We worked really hard with our nurses and community partners to make sure we were still notifying parents and calling them weekly, and working with families to provide opportunities to get vaccinated,” Adams said. Her district partnered with the county health department and the local hospital system to provide clinics at schools for in-person and remote students.

Adams said the effort was successful last fall and that the district is deploying the same strategy and resources this summer to make sure students arrive at school fully vaccinated.

According to the CDC’s study, the percentage of children and adolescents receiving their MMR shots (for measles, mumps, and rubella) and their Tdap shots (tetanus, diptheria, and pertussis) between March and May 2020 dropped substantially compared to the same time period in 2018 and 2019. For example, MMR doses among 2- to 8-year-olds dropped by 63 percent. Tdap vaccinations among 9- to 12-year-olds declined by 66 percent and by 21 percent among 13- to 17-year-olds.

During the time period between June and September 2020, vaccination numbers had nearly recovered to pre-pandemic levels, but, as the CDC report points out, those numbers needed to exceed 2018 and 2019 levels to make up for all the vaccinations missed in the spring.

Policies requiring vaccines for school entry play a vital role in public health, said Dr. Rani Gereige, a pediatrician at Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami who also researches schools’ roles in children’s health.

“Really linking immunization to school entry has resulted in helping us fight many preventable diseases,” he said. “It’s been very successful.”

Gereige believes that vaccination rates among children will recover to pre-pandemic levels if students return to in-person learning and schools enforce vaccine requirements.

Related Tags:


Special Education Webinar Reading, Dyslexia, and Equity: Best Practices for Addressing a Threefold Challenge
Learn about proven strategies for instruction and intervention that support students with dyslexia.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Personalized Learning Webinar
No Time to Waste: Individualized Instruction Will Drive Change
Targeted support and intervention can boost student achievement. Join us to explore tutoring’s role in accelerating the turnaround. 
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools
Student Well-Being K-12 Essentials Forum Social-Emotional Learning: Making It Meaningful
Join us for this event with educators and experts on the damage the pandemic did to academic and social and emotional well-being.

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Student Well-Being What the Research Says Teen Brains Aged Prematurely During the Pandemic. Schools Should Take Note
Researchers cite chronic stress during the pandemic for the phenomenon, which can affect mental health among youth.
3 min read
Cracked silhouette of a person holding their head with illuminated gears in place of the brain.
iStock/Getty Images Plus
Student Well-Being Sports Coaches Want More Training on How to Address Young Athletes' Mental Health
A survey found that only 18 percent of coaches feel confident that they know how to connect their athletes to mental health supports.
4 min read
Physical Education teacher Amanda DeLaGarza instructs students how to stretch during 7th grade P.E. class at Cockrill Middle School on Nov. 9, 2016 in McKinney, Texas.
Schools in the United States earned a D-minus grade in 2022 in an international ranking from the Physical Activity Alliance for how well they facilitate access to physical activity for students. Research shows that physical activity, such as participation in sports, improves mental health.
Ting Shen/The Dallas Morning News via AP
Student Well-Being Opinion One Simple Thing You Can Do to Make Yourself Happier
A happiness and time researcher shares a simple hack to make experiences more pleasurable.
Cassie Holmes
1 min read
Images shows a stylized artistic landscape with soothing colors.
Student Well-Being Schools Are Not Identifying All Their Homeless Students. Why That Is Hurting the Kids
Hundreds of thousands of homeless students are not receiving the services they need, new report says.
3 min read
A young Black girl with her head down on a stack of books at her desk in a classroom