New state laws have expanded the immunization requirements for students and changed the way they get exemptions from immunizations for religious reasons.
One law being implemented for the first time this year requires students entering sixth grade and 12th grade to get meningitis shots.
McHenry County Public Health Administrator Mike Hill said the idea behind the meningitis immunization requirements is to protect children who have medical conditions that prevent them from getting certain immunizations.
“We’re trying to protect those kids by cutting down on the number of unvaccinated people that are in schools,” Hill said.
He said if a student doesn’t have the vaccine and there is a disease outbreak, he or she could be excluded from school.
Patti Secrest, school nurse at Prairie Ridge High School in Crystal Lake, said “There’s been a lot of communication” with parents regarding the new immunization requirements.
“[The] meningitis immunization is an easy law for me to get behind because it definitely will save lives,” Secrest said.
Michele Knaizer, Consolidated School District 158 nurse team leader, said many students already have the meningitis vaccine.
She said the district also will let people know the new requirements regarding religious exemptions.
Illinois law allows people to be exempt from immunizations for medical or religious reasons.
Before Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the new legislation into law Aug. 3, parents simply could write to their local school officials explaining the vaccines were contrary to their religious beliefs.
Now that Senate Bill 1410 is law, parents who want to cite religious belief as a reason not to vaccinate will have to complete a Certificate of Religious Exemption and have it signed by a health care provider.
Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said a health care provider’s signature indicates he or she has informed the client about the risks of not being vaccinated, as well as the benefits of being vaccinated.
Arnold said immunizations are “the most cost-effective way to prevent vaccine-preventable illness,” and the health department encourages as many people to get the shots as possible.
She said officials are in the process of creating a religious exemption certificate, and the form should be available sometime next week on the IDPH website.
Among the faiths whose followers tend to opt out of immunizations are Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and some Baptist groups, according to school officials.
“Whether one of Jehovah’s Witnesses conscientiously decides to have family members immunized is a personal decision,” according to a statement sent from the faith organization’s public relations office.
The Illinois State Board of Education reports the number of religious exemptions school districts approve.
The religious exemptions for McHenry County public schools for the 2013-14 school year – the most recent year with information available – are:
Nippersink School District 2: 28
Fox River Grove Consolidated School District 3: 4
Johnsburg Community Unit School District 12: 32
McHenry Elementary School District 15: 40
Riley Community Consolidated School District 18- (K-8): 4
Alden-Hebron Community Consolidated District 19: 6
Cary Community Consolidated School District 26: 32
Harrison School District 36: 4
Prairie Grove Consolidated School District 46: 25
Crystal Lake Community Cons School District 47: 77
Harvard Community School District 50: 9
Marengo Community High School District 154: 2
Community High School District 155: 39
McHenry High School District 156: 10
Richmond-Burton Community High School District 157: 13
Consolidated School District 158: 72
Marengo-Union Elementary School district 165: 15
Woodstock Community Unit School District 200: 58
Shaw Media reporter Rhonda Gillespie contributed to this report.