Tips for meeting immunization requirements
With all of the recent news attention that vaccines have been getting, it would be remiss not to discuss the challenges around meeting immunization requirements in a school setting. With mandates that vary from one state to the next, schools constantly struggle to collect all of the necessary documentation for each of their students. Schools are required to show proof that their students are either up-to-date on immunizations or have a documented medical or religious exemption. Some states will also accept a personal belief or philosophical exemption.
But let’s save the debate on whether or not to immunize for another time, and instead talk about ways to meet your state’s requirements. Achieving compliance is no small task. It may involve sending reminder letters in the mail, making numerous phone calls, and pulling kids out of class until all of their requirements are met.
Here are a few tips to help get the job done:
Get administrator buy-in
At most schools, the responsibility of fulfilling these requirements falls solely on the nurse. For schools without a nurse, it has probably been delegated to someone in an administrative role, perhaps a member of the front office staff. Whatever the situation at your school, it is not effective to let one person face this challenge on his or her own. If everyone presents a united front, parents are more likely to comply. No mom or dad wants to get a strongly worded message from the principal or head of school that scolds them for not submitting their child(ren)’s immunization records. Talk to administrators and staff about the importance of 100% compliance and make sure everyone understands the potential consequences for not meeting state mandates.
Establish and enforce consequences
So now that you’ve gotten the support of your colleagues, it’s time to stand your ground. After all, what good are letters and phone calls if they end up being empty threats? Decide how you’re going to handle non-compliance and stick to that decision. Will you exclude kids from class until everything has been turned in? It is not uncommon for schools to take this “zero tolerance” approach. And while it may sound drastic, many of our clients have been successful in enforcing strict policies. Download our Zero Tolerance Policy Toolkit to learn how to develop one for your school. If that’s not realistic, can you at least prevent non-compliant students from participating in other events or activities?
Schools and education go hand-in-hand, but don’t forget to teach parents about what is required of them, and the options that are available for them to meet those requirements. Does the local health department offer the vaccines? Share the address and phone number with your parents so they can make an appointment. Did your state’s immunization requirements recently change? Notify parents of the change and provide resources that explain why the change was made. Be sure to inform them of the consequences that you have established for non-compliant students. And most of all, educate them on the importance of having their child(ren)’s information on file at the school so that they feel a personal responsibility to turn everything in.
Communicate early and often
The next step to getting parents on board is frequent communication. Don’t wait until a deadline has been missed to start reaching out to parents. Leading up to the time that immunization records are due, you should be consistently reminding parents with outstanding records of the upcoming deadline. At Magnus, we strongly recommend email over snail mail for these. It’s much easier and more cost effective to send weekly emails than it is to do the same with letters. If you can automate your emails and exclude parents that have already submitted all of the required documentation, even better. Check out our Parent Communications Toolkit for more tips on sending emails to enforce compliance.
Compliance starts with knowing what has been turned in and what hasn’t. Unless you’re content with being blissfully unaware of what you’re missing, you need a system in place. Ideally, you’ll use a software program to track immunization dates and run reports on the students whose records are still outstanding. If you don’t have that luxury, your next best bet is to build an Excel spreadsheet listing all of your students in one column and each of the required vaccines in their own columns. As you review records that have been submitted, enter dose dates or put check marks in the fields to indicate the requirement has been met. You can then sort or filter by the empty fields to see which of your students are non-compliant and take action from there.
Hopefully these tips will help you collect all of your immunization records and ace your next state audit! Did we forget anything? Are there any other techniques that you’ve found to be particularly helpful? Be sure to share those in the comments below. And remember, you can apply the same strategies to collecting other health forms that your school might require. Use them to make sure physical exams, health histories, consent to treat forms, and action plans are on file for every student.