Religious, medical exemptions only
by Robin Kemp
Clayton County Public Schools reopen August 2, and CCPS is reminding parents that, under Georgia law, all public school students must be vaccinated in order to enroll. The only exceptions are for medical or religious reasons. “Personal belief” is not an exception in Georgia.
The shots that students are required to get by law (click on any highlighted word to learn more about the disease):
- MMR (measles, mumps, rubella–also known as German measles)
- polio (poliomyelitis)
- chicken pox (varicella)
- DTAP (diptheria, tetanus, pertussis–also known as whooping cough)
- hepatitis A
- hepatitis B
- meningitis (MCV4)
- haemophilus influenza type B
At this time, the COVID-19 vaccine is not required for children under 12. Kids 12 and up are eligible to get the vaccine. However, parents should be aware that federal health officials are considering whether to allow younger children to get the vaccine, due to a spike in cases of the more dangerous Delta variant of the virus.
If you’re not sure whether you should vaccinate your child, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offer a useful website where parents can learn more about making that decision,
The Georgia Department of Public Health explains how medical and religious exemptions work:
You can’t just present a doctor’s note to get a medical exemption from vaccination. A medical exemption applies “only when a child has a medical condition that keeps him from being able to receive a specific vaccine(s), not all vaccines.” For example, if your child is allergic to eggs and a certain vaccine can only be made with eggs, your child would be eligible to skip that shot, but not others.
In addition, any medical exemption “must be marked on the Georgia Immunization Certificate (DPH Form 3231). A letter from a physician, Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN), or physician assistant (PA) attached to the certificate will not be accepted as a medical exemption. It must be marked on the certificate.” That certificate is only good for one year at a time.
You can’t get a blank Form 3231: in Georgia, only doctors and clinics can fill out immunization certificates. If your child is new to Georgia, you’ll need to bring your child’s immunization records to the doctor for the immunization certificate. However, you only need to file it once.
Similarly, you can’t just send a note with your kid stating an objection on religious grounds. Georgia DPH requires parents or guardians to file a notarized Affidavit of Religious Objection to Immunization (DPH Form 2208). That affidavit takes the place of the Georgia Immunization Certificate and does not expire.
Any child with either a medical or a religious exemption from vaccination is not allowed to attend school when there’s an outbreak or threatened outbreak, according to Georgia DPH. The person signing the affidavit swears or affirms that they understand that “Georgia DPH has determined”:
- that the required vaccinations are necessary to prevent the spread of dangerous diseases among the children and people of this State;
- that the required vaccinations are safe;
- that a child who does not receive the required vaccinations is at risk of contracting those diseases; and
- that a child who does not receive the required vaccinations is at risk of spreading these diseases to me, to other children in the child care facility or school, and to other persons.
The person signing the affidavit also “sincerely affirm[s] that vaccination is contrary to my religious beliefs, and that my objections to vaccination are not based solely on grounds of personal philosophy or inconvenience.”
Finally, the person signing the affidavit swears they understand that, “notwithstanding my religious objections, my child may be excluded from child care facilities or schools during an epidemic or threatened epidemic of any disease preventable by a vaccination required by the Georgia Department of Public Health, and that my child may be required to receive a vaccination in the event that such a disease is in epidemic stages, as provided in Georgia Code Section 31-12-3 and DPH Rule 511-9-1-.03(2)(d),”
In other words, a religious exemption is not a blanket exemption from all immunizations. State health officials have the legal power to require that people who object to vaccination on religious grounds get vaccinated in two specific scenarios: either during an epidemic ,or if a the threat of an epidemic looms.
You should keep a copy of your child’s immunization records. Georgia DPH has several suggestions for getting those:
- Contact the Georgia Registry of Immunization Transactions and Services (GRITS) by phone at (404) 657-3158, by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by fax at (404) 657-7496. You’ll need to have ID ready. Be aware that GRITS might not have your child’s complete immunization information on file.
- Contact the last doctor or clinic where your child was immunized and ask for the immunization record.
- Call your child’s last school to see if it has the immunization records on file.
- Contact the county health clinic where your child was immunized to see if it has those records.
What HIPAA means
Many people mistakenly believe that HIPAA means their health records are top-secret documents. That’s not true.
HIPAA, which stands for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, is a federal law that prevents four specific groups from sharing your medical data without your permission. Those groups are:
- Healthcare providers
- Health plans
- Healthcare clearinghouses
- Business associates
HIPAA has nothing to do with refusing to answer questions from your child’s teacher, a reporter doing a story, or a law enforcement officer investigating a crime. It does not mean that you can prevent written or oral discussions about your health. It means that your HMO, your insurance company, or your exercise tracking program can’t send your medical information in electronic format without your permission.
For more information about getting your child vaccinated for school, visit these sites:
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