Understanding the Barriers that Students Face to Getting Immunizations

Jan 23, 2020 by

When it comes to public health, we’ve come so far in the last century. There are more treatments and immunizations than ever, and we’ve even managed to eliminate a few of the most dangerous diseases from our environment altogether.

Despite these successes, though, some diseases are making a comeback. Measles, which almost disappeared in the developed world after the vaccine became available, is making a resurgence due to anti-vaccination groups and misinformation circulating around the safety of immunization.

In addition to these obstacles, many children simply do not have access to the healthcare they need, which can make it extremely difficult to ensure that every child is immunized properly before attending school. We need to understand these barriers and break them down as much as possible so that every child can attend school and stay healthy.

The Exactly Qualifies as an Immunization & Why Are They Important?

The basic definition of immunization is to make someone immune (or more resistant) to a disease. While this is most often achieved with a vaccine, it can also occur when someone is affected by a disease and develops antibodies to protect the body in the future.

Before vaccines were available, people of all ages were more likely to die from infectious diseases. Vaccines have been so successful in immunizing the population against serious illnesses that it is estimated they save 2-3 million lives every year.

Immunizations are extremely important for two main reasons. First, they protect the person who is receiving the vaccine directly. But they also help to protect those in the population who are unable to be vaccinated, such as people who are immunocompromised or have other health problems. That’s why it’s so crucial that all children are immunized according to the recommended schedule before they enter kindergarten.

Are There School & University Immunization Requirements?

While most states do have their own requirements and restrictions for immunization, there is no federal requirement. In some states, schools can turn away children who have not received the appropriate vaccinations for their age. New York, for instance, requires children to be vaccinated within 14 days of starting school, daycare, or any childcare facility.

There are exceptions, of course. Some states allow for medical exemptions only (the child does not qualify for immunization), while others have more lenient vaccination exemptions, based on religion, beliefs, and other grounds.

Each school should provide parents with the information they need prior to their child’s enrollment, but state-specific immunization requirements are available through each state’s health department or immunization program.

Could a Lack of Health Literacy Be an Issue?

Students and their parents need to be informed about health issues in order to get the vaccines they need to stay safe. Young children can’t make their own medical decisions, so parents need to have access to information about healthcare and health services to ensure that their children are up to date on their immunizations.

Health literacy for parents is extremely important when it comes to vaccines. There’s a lot of misinformation on the internet, including a vocal and growing anti-vaccine movement that is not grounded in scientific research but has been spreading fear among parents all over the country. Doctors need to clearly communicate the importance (and safety) of vaccines to parents so that they will consent to have their child immunized.

What Challenges Do Students Face for Receiving Immunizations?

Studies have shown that children who are uninsured or insured by Medicaid are less likely to be vaccinated. These children may not ever see a doctor or may be unable to receive the vaccines they need for a variety of reasons ranging from direct financial concerns or transportation challenges.

Additionally, new legislation intended to keep undocumented immigrants from receiving public assistance could be putting more children at risk by discouraging their parents from using Medicaid services, for fear it might jeopardize their chances of permanent residency or even make them vulnerable to deportation.

Children who do not have a legal guardian are most at risk for remaining unvaccinated. Homeless youth may not legally be able to give consent for vaccination, even though there is no one who can make that decision for them. In some states, initiatives are in the works to help children who have no one to fight for them.

Immunization: A Safe, Low-Cost Option

Immunizing children before they enter the school system is extremely important from a public health (and an individual) standpoint. Vaccines can prevent diseases that throughout human history have caused disfigurement, long-term health issues, and death. Immunization is a safe, low-cost preventative measure that every child deserves—and we need to fight for their right to get it.

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