Widespread pediatric illness prompts Virginia to delay starting school for unvaccinated kids

Unvaccinated children will have to wait longer to start kindergarten, until age 11. That’s according to a Kaiser Health News report.

The change affects 9 percent of students starting at a Virginia school in fall 2019. The new rule is meant to give parents time to get vaccinated.

First, a delay.

The rule requires kids to start kindergarten if they haven’t had a recent booster shot. That only applies to students starting next fall in the city of Fredericksburg.

Parents of kindergartners already have the option of holding their child back another year. For next fall, the wait is just a few weeks. Parents of kindergartners in the middle of the school year had to make their decision by late November.

The rule and the timeline seem to have been prompted by concerns the number of unvaccinated children in Virginia is growing, health officials say. Only about 75 percent of Virginia kindergartners get two doses of the full measles-mumps-rubella vaccine, and there was about a 50 percent spike in unvaccinated kindergartners last year, according to the Department of Medical Assistance Services.

Just last year, states including Washington and Colorado enacted laws requiring vaccinations to start kindergarten. But these laws apply only to incoming kindergartners, not those completing their kindergarten curriculum.

Jaimie Ryan, a spokeswoman for the Department of Medical Assistance Services, said part of Virginia’s vaccine policy changes was aimed at giving parents who need time to get vaccinated more time.

“This rule change was implemented to give parents more time to get their children vaccinated,” Ryan said.

According to Ryan, officials had been urging parents to vaccinate their children for two years. Last summer, the state did outreach in school districts in Fredericksburg and was getting positive feedback from parents, Ryan said.

Stephanie Fishkoff, spokeswoman for the Department of Medical Assistance Services, said the push for vaccinations to start by 5th grade could be another possible change after the end of this school year.

The increase in unvaccinated kindergartners should not be a cause for alarm, officials stress.

The number of kindergartners who don’t receive at least one vaccine “are still at a low rate and remain below 10 percent,” Ryan said.

The number of unvaccinated students is also low relative to other states. Virginia ranks 15th in the nation in the number of kindergartners who don’t have both doses of the MMR vaccine, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Kristen Bader at MyHealthNewsDaily contributed to this report.

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