With a new school year starting, it is important to ensure that children’s vaccines are up to date to protect them, their classmates, family members, and the community. Arkansas law requires that students who attend public or private schools or childcare facilities receive routine vaccinations.
Routine vaccinations are vitally important for children. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes, on-time vaccinations help children build immunity to potentially life-threatening diseases before they are exposed. Vaccines go through extensive testing to ensure they are both safe and effective for children to receive.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many routine vaccinations for children were delayed. A 2023 study published by the CDC found that during the 2021-22 school year, vaccine coverage among kindergarten children was nearly 93% nationwide, a decline from both the previous school year (94% coverage was reported in the 2020-21 school year) and the pre-pandemic school year (95% coverage was reported for the 2019-20 school year). A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that across eight health systems in six states, childhood vaccination rates and the proportion of young children and adolescents up to date on vaccinations as of September 2020 were lower than in 2019.
As of 2018-2020, the latest period of data available from America’s Health Rankings, 66.5% of children aged 24 months in Arkansas had received all recommended doses of the combined seven-vaccine series recommended by the CDC. Arkansas’s child vaccination rate was below the U.S. average of 70.5% and near the bottom — 44th — in a ranking of states. Connecticut was the best-performing state at 81.6%, and Alaska was the worst-performing state at 61.2%.
Timely vaccination of children is an important public health measure needed to reduce the spread of preventable illnesses in childcare centers, schools, and other educational settings. Failure to fully vaccinate children may also disrupt their educational opportunities: In 2016 and 2017, Arkansas experienced a mumps outbreak with nearly 3,000 cases, many of which were among school students. Because of the outbreak, the Arkansas Department of Health required students who were not fully vaccinated because of exemptions to be excluded from school for 26 days if they were exposed to the virus.
The Arkansas Department of Health has published a chart (pages 7 and 8) with immunization requirements for public school children in the state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also has adult and child immunization schedules available on its website.
Children are not required to be vaccinated for COVID-19, but for the best protection, the CDC recommends COVID-19 vaccines for everyone 6 months and older.
College students who are heading back to school should also be up to date on vaccines to prevent the spread of infectious diseases on campus. Communal living spaces that many college students reside in create environments where viruses and bacteria are easily spread. Many colleges require students to have certain vaccinations to be eligible to register and attend classes. The CDC has information on its website about the vaccines recommended for college-age students.