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These States Have Banned COVID-19 Vaccine Requirements in Schools

Anti-vaccine protester

David McNew / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • Reports this week say Tennessee will prohibit its Department of Health from promoting vaccinations for all diseases and will end COVID-19 vaccination clinics on school property.
  • Some states bar schools from requiring that students are vaccinated or show proof of vaccination to attend in-person learning.
  • At least 34 states legislatures have proposed such bills and at least 7 have signed them into law.

Tennessee on Tuesday became the latest state to limit access to COVID-19 vaccines in public schools. The Tennessee Department of Health will stop outreach about vaccines for all diseases, including COVID-19, Tennessean reported. Authorities are also moving to ban vaccination drives on school premises.

Prior to the halt in COVID-19 vaccine outreach, Tennessee also passed a law that would prohibit requiring proof of vaccination for entering government properties.

At least seven other states have taken a step further by enacting similar legislations in public school, according to a CNN analysis. These include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Montana, Oklahoma, and Utah.

As of June 22, at least 34 states have introduced bills to limit vaccine requirements, and at least 13 have seen those signed into law, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Six of those laws included language specifically pertaining to schools or education.

These legislations have passed amid growing concerns about the highly transmissible Delta variant as well the controversy over vaccination requirements in schools.

Targeting Vaccine Requirements and Vaccine Passports

For the most part, these state laws say schools can’t mandate COVID-19 vaccines or proof of vaccination. In some states, schools will continue to require other routine vaccinations, including those to protect against whooping cough, polio, measles, and chickenpox.

For instance, a law passed in Alabama in May says that schools may continue to require that students provide proof of vaccination, but only for the shots that were already required before January 1, 2021.  

In some cases, states are specifically targeting “vaccine passports,” or proof of vaccination status.

In Indiana, Gov. Eric Holcomb signed an act that would prohibit state and local authorities from issuing documentation on someone’s vaccination status. Schools may mandate vaccinations but are barred from requiring proof, meaning they must default to an honor system.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis signed a law in May outlawing the use of vaccine passports. The law also ensures that no state or local governments can keep students out of in-person schools, except for during hurricane emergencies.

In Alabama, a new law states that it is illegal and discriminatory for the government to deny students education based on their vaccination status.

What This Means For You

If you or a loved one is returning to school in the fall, look for updated rules from your local and state government for information about vaccines and necessary documentation. The CDC recommends all students ages 12 and over get the vaccine, saying it’s the best tool to protect oneself against COVID-19.

What Should Students Do?

So far, COVID-19 vaccines are only available for children aged 12 and above, though vaccines for younger children are being studied. In March, the FDA authorized the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for teenagers after the company demonstrated that it was 100% effective in clinical trials.

In its latest guidance for schools, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends teens between the ages of 12 and 15 get vaccinated, though it acknowledges that its guidance is not a substitute for local policies.

Students in all states can be exempt from vaccination requirements if they have a valid medical reason, such as an allergic reaction to the vaccine. In 44 states, students can also opt out for religious reasons. They can do so for personal, moral or other philosophical reasons.

"Vaccination is currently the leading public health prevention strategy to end the COVID-19 pandemic," the CDC guidance says. "Promoting vaccination can help schools safely return to in-person learning as well as extracurricular activities and sports."

There is some precedent for requiring vaccination in school settings. During the measles outbreak in the 1970s, for instance, states with school immunization laws saw a 40-51% decrease in measles rates compared to others.

Several private colleges and universities have announced that students must be vaccinated before returning to campus in the fall. Now, dozens of schools mandate COVID-19 vaccinations, though some are pending FDA approval.

The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.

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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Guidance for COVID-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools. Updated July 9, 2021.

  2. National Conference of State Legislatures. States with Religious and Philosophical Exemptions from School Immunization Requirements. Updated April 30, 2021.